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HIGHT DEFENDS FC TITLE AT 22ND FALL NATIONALS Auto Club Driver Leads Countdown Drivers into Texas Motorplex ENNIS, Texas -- In any sport, those who aspire to be The Man ultimately have to beat The Man. That will be the scenario this...

HIGHT DEFENDS FC TITLE AT 22ND FALL NATIONALS
Auto Club Driver Leads Countdown Drivers into Texas Motorplex

ENNIS, Texas -- In any sport, those who aspire to be The Man ultimately have to beat The Man.

That will be the scenario this week when NHRA drag racing's fastest cars and biggest stars assemble at Billy Meyer's Texas Motorplex for the 22nd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Fall Nationals, the next-to-last race before the final cut in the Countdown to the Championship.

By almost any measure, The Man of the moment in the NHRA's Funny Car division is Robert "Top Gun" Hight, the 38-year-old driver of the Auto Club/AAA Texas Ford.

Not only does he lead the current Countdown points, he also sits atop the points as they would have been tabulated a year ago, before the NHRA adopted its new playoff format.

He's been the No. 1 qualifier a category-best seven times this season, owns the two quickest quarter mile times in Funny Car history (4.646 seconds at Pomona, Calif., and 4.636 seconds at Phoenix, Ariz.), is the defending Fall Nationals champion and, oh yeah, is the son-in-law of the most prolific winner in drag racing history, John Force.

Add to that the fact that he has an affinity for the Motorplex and its all-concrete racing surface and it becomes clear why those who presently trail him in the point standings, including Force, will be hard-pressed to make up any ground this weekend.

"I love racing at the Motorplex," Hight said, "especially because of the success John Force Racing has had there. We won there when I was working on John's Funny Car (1998, 1999 and two times in 2000) and I won last season in the Auto Club Ford (in the process becoming the first to break the 300 mph barrier at the track). The all-concrete racing surface is something all the other tracks should look at."

The 2005 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award which identifies the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year, Hight ended talk of a sophomore jinx when he won the first race of a 2006 season in which he finished second only to Force. Now he's poised to become the third different JFR driver in five years to win the $500,000 championship.

"Now that we're in the Countdown, you have to think about how you want to race," said the only Funny Car driver to have led the standings each of the last three seasons. "This stretch run is where you have to race smart to get into the final four so you can race for the Championship.

"You have to be consistent and go rounds, but I think we have a car that can repeat. My crew chief, Jimmy Prock, has been running a new combination the last two races and he says we've just scratched the surface on what we can do with it. That's real exciting for me and for this team."

It's been a strange year for Hight, who spent eight seasons as a crewman on Force's car before getting his chance to drive.

A former trapshooting champion, he opened the season by reaching the final round in four of five events before a crash at Topeka, Kan., forced him into a backup car. After failing to make the starting field at Joliet, Ill., the first DNQ of his career, Hight opted to make another chassis change.

He made a fourth -- and hopefully final -- chassis change before the start of the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.

Those chassis problems notwithstanding, Hight has been the performance leader all season long, re-asserting himself just a week ago in a track record-setting performance (4.762 seconds) in the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis, Tenn.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Robert Hight