HIGHT, PROCK STARTING OVER
AS TOUR ARRIVES IN BRISTOL
Auto Club Ford Gets Makeover for O'Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Think of Jimmy Prock as a modern day Dr. Frankenstein, the protagonist in Mary Shelley's horror classic, a man whose bid for perfection ended tragically because he was unable to control the powerful creature he had created.
Instead of the bigger, stronger, more intelligent human being Frankenstein envisioned, Prock's goal was a bigger, faster, more intimidating race car, one powered by an engine producing as much horsepower in a single cylinder as the V-8 in one of the Nextel Cup stock cars that twice each year race next door at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Unfortunately, like Frankenstein's creature, Prock's monster had a mind of its own, which is why the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang he'll put beneath driver Robert "Top Gun" Hight in this week's seventh annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Thunder Valley Nationals bears only a cosmetic resemblance to its potent predecessor.
Gone is the engine/clutch combination that last February delivered the two quickest quarter miles in Funny Car history -- 4.644 seconds at Pomona, Calif., and 4.634 seconds at Phoenix, Ariz. In its place is one that may not strike quite as much fear in the hearts of the opposition, but one that ultimately may provide the consistency necessary for Prock and Hight to realize their goal of a POWERade championship.
Before committing his monster to the scrap heap, Prock changed everything on it in a futile attempt to make it perform as he envisioned. He raised the fuel volume, lowered the fuel volume and swapped out virtually every part and piece in the drivetrain and ignition. Nothing helped. So, beginning this week at Bristol Dragway and continuing through the end of August, he and Hight will change direction.
"We're going to test and try different things and, but the time we go to Indy (for the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the first event in the six-race Countdown), hopefully we'll have a combination that we can race with like we did at the end of last year," Hight said. "Whatever it takes, that's what we're going to do."
Although he went to the finals in four of the season's first five races, winning twice, and even though he presently is second in POWERade points, Hight said that the tune-up in the blue-and-white Ford never lived up to his or Prock's expectations.
The problem, according to Hight, was that the engine might run on all eight cylinders or it might not. It might leave the starting line with 8,000 horses, but it rarely reached the finish line in the same condition, suffering from "dropped cylinders," a malady best described as a "miss" in the engine.
"When it ran 4.63," said the 2005 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year, "it had a cylinder out at 800 feet. We just couldn't race with what we had. I'm not trying to be negative, but that's the way it is. We were way over center on the tune-up (and it got to the point where) it was not going (down the track) more than it was going."
The situation came to a head last week at Norwalk, Ohio. Although Hight qualified No. 1 for the 19th time in his brief career, the seven-time tour winner may have been the unhappiest track record holder in history.
"It put two cylinders out and burnt one downtrack (on a 4.713 second run that set the track record)," he said. "(On the run before that), it tried to drop three cylinders at once. If we could ever get it to run to the finish line like its supposed to, and run 325 or 330 like it did last year, it'd run consistent 4.60s. But Jimmy has tried everything."
The upshot is that winning this week's race or next week's or the one contested the week after that isn't as important to the Auto Club duo as is the development of a new "tune-able" combination to contest the Countdown.
"We're going to spend the next six races trying different things and, hopefully, develop a combination that we can race with. Whatever it takes between now and (Indy), that's what we're going to do."