HIGHT TRIES TO FOLLOW DENSHAM INTO RACEWAY PARK WINNERS CIRCLE Automobile Club Mustang Seeks Third Win in Four Years ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight never has driven a race car at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, site of this...
HIGHT TRIES TO FOLLOW DENSHAM
INTO RACEWAY PARK WINNERS CIRCLE
Automobile Club Mustang Seeks Third Win in Four Years
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight never has driven a race car at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, site of this week's 36th annual K&N Filters SuperNationals, but despite that fact, the 35-year-old rookie is considered one of the Funny Car favorites along with boss and teammate John Force, the POWERade points leader, and veteran Gary Scelzi, winner last week at Joliet, Ill.
As impressive as he has been in the season's first 10 races, winning once and qualifying No. 1 four times, Hight owes his Raceway Park status not so much to what he has done in the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford as to what was accomplished by his predecessor.
Veteran Gary Densham, who now drives his own Racebricks Chevrolet Monte Carlo, put the Auto Club Ford in the SuperNationals winners circle in both 2002 and 2004, last year beating Force in an all-Ford, all-Team Castrol final round.
Now it's up to Hight and one of the sport's brightest young crew chiefs, Jimmy Prock, to make it three wins in four years for the blue-and-white Mustang.
A former crewman on Force's Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang, Hight has combined the skills that made him a world class marksman with the experience gleaned in a full season as the team's official test driver to emerge as the runaway leader in the race for the Auto Club's 2005 Road to the Future Award, which identifies the NHRA's Rookie-of- the-Year.
The soft-spoken 35-year-old Californian, married to Force's oldest daughter, Adria, and father to the 13-time champion's only grandchild, Autumn Danielle Hight, is third in driver points as the 2005 season races to its halfway point.
Hight has been in the mix at every race, qualifying no worse than sixth, beating Cruz Pedregon to earn a breakthrough victory at Houston, Texas, and just missing a second win at Atlanta, Ga., where he lost the final to Force by .002 of a second.
It's been a whirlwind debut for the kid who grew up in a little town in northern California (Alturas, population 3,500) playing baseball and target shooting.
At age 15, he won a California state trapshooting championship and, like most youngsters, dreamed of a career in professional sports.
However, he never imagined that he would realize that dream at the wheel of an 8,000 horsepower race car capable of zero-to-330 mile-an-hour acceleration in less than 4.70 seconds.
"At the start of the year," Hight said, "I said my main goal was to qualify for all 23 races. That's what Eric (teammate Eric Medlen, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford) did and I thought he set the bar pretty high.
"But my goals have changed a little bit now," Hight continued. "Now I know I'm in a car capable not just of winning races, but of winning the championship. That puts a little more pressure on me, but, hopefully, I'm up for it."
Hight gives full credit for to Prock, the once reluctant Funny Car crew chief who made his reputation directing Cory McClenathan and later Joe Amato to 21 NHRA tour victories in the Top Fuel division. Prock now is considered one of the premier Funny Car crew chiefs.
"Jimmy's making little bitty changes on the car now," Hight said. "He's not having to make big changes to get it down the track. (And the important thing is that) every little change he makes, the car responds to. That's how consistent and how confident he is right now. It's really awesome for me to have the opportunity to drive a car like this one."
Despite his protestations, Hight isn't just a passenger, enjoying Prock's ride.
He has applied the concentration skills that made him a champion marksman to racing. Moreover, as Force's former clutch specialist, he has a mechanic's mind which enables him to communicate easily with Prock and the crew. Finally, the more than 40 test runs he made in 2004 gave him a level of comfort going into the season that most rookies don't enjoy, which is why he is in such select company this weekend.
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Did You Know? Robert is a world class marksman and one of the few trapshooters in the world to have achieved a "grand slam" perfect scores in each of the sport's three disciplines (200 straight targets at 16 yards, 100 straight at 27 yards and 100 straight in doubles)....Robert was the clutch specialist on John Force's Castrol GTX Funny Car during five championship seasons before becoming JFR Facility Manager....Robert's first job in racing was working on the crew of a Roger Primm-owned Top Fuel dragster driven by Del Worsham. It was in that capacity that he formed a friendship with Worsham that continues today.