ROOKIE HIGHT EYES POINTS LEAD AS NHRA TOUR MOVES TO BRISTOL Auto Club Ford Mustang Continues to Impress BRISTOL, Tenn. -- POWERade points leader Whit Bazemore's comments notwithstanding, Robert Hight already has demonstrated that there...
ROOKIE HIGHT EYES POINTS LEAD AS NHRA TOUR MOVES TO BRISTOL
Auto Club Ford Mustang Continues to Impress
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- POWERade points leader Whit Bazemore's comments notwithstanding, Robert Hight already has demonstrated that there was more to his selection as the driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang than simple nepotism.
In fact, Hight, who is married to car owner John Force's eldest daughter, Adria, and is father of the 13-time NHRA champion's only grandchild, eight-month old Autumn Danielle Hight, already has established himself as the clubhouse leader in the race for the Auto Club's 2005 Road to the Future Award that identifies the top rookie in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
The No. 1 qualifier at two of the season's first five events, Hight earned a breakthrough victory at Houston (in only his fourth professional start) and comes into this week's fifth annual O'Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway in third place in Funny Car points behind only Bazemore and Force.
Nevertheless, after beating Hight in the second round of the most recent event in the series (the April 17th SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), Bazemore found it necessary to mention, during his finish line interview, that he had to earn his keep at the wheel of the Dodge he drives for Don Schumacher, adding "it's not like I'm married to the boss's daughter."
To his credit, Hight didn't fire back.
However, he did point out that, as the wheelman on a heavily-sponsored, high- profile race car, if he doesn't perform, son-in-law or not, he'll find himself exchanging driving gloves for the Mechanix Wear mittens he wore for the six years he was the team's clutch specialist.
As for Force, he makes no apologies for putting Hight in the Auto Club Mustang as a rookie. It's the same thing he did last year with another unknown, Eric Medlen, when he gave him the reins of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford that Tony Pedregon drove to the championship in 2003.
"When Tony left, it hurt," Force said, "because he had been here eight years. We interviewed a lot of drivers but three or four years down the road, I didn't want to be in the same situation. So Eric made sense. He knew our system, he got along with everybody and if we put him with his dad (John Medlen, crew chief on the SYNTEC Ford), that was a good storyline for the media. Plus I knew his heart.
"The problem was selling it to sponsors that invest millions in the sport. They want a 'name,' an established driver," Force said, "but they bought into it. Bottom line, if Eric hadn't succeeded, Robert wouldn't have gotten his chance.
"These are two kids who had a dream to drive. They paid their dues (working on Force's Castrol GTX ® crew), but how were they ever going to get the chance to drive?" Force asked. "The NHRA has the Jr. Dragsters program and then you move up to Super Comp or Top Alcohol. But what do you do then? We thought, looking at the future, it was a gamble, but it was a gamble worth taking."
Medlen made Force look like a genius by winning last year at Brainerd, Minn. Hight is making him look even better at the wheel of an Auto Club Ford in which Gary Densham started the 2001 Thunder Valley Nationals from the No. 1 qualifying position.
In Hight's hands and with Jimmy Prock working his mechanical magic, the 7,000 horsepower Mustang has qualified no worse than fourth in five starts this season. It easily has been the most consistent of the three Mustangs.
Hight credits Prock, Force and Medlen for his quick success.
"Jimmy Prock, it's unbelievable what he's done with this car. It's good when it's cool and it's good when it's hot. It's just good and I'm the guy who gets to drive it. When we won at Houston, John talked me through every round. And Eric has helped me more than anyone knows because he lived all these situations a year ago. There's not better place for a young driver to develop, I know that."