HIGHT-FORCE MATCH-UP IS KEY IN 24TH SKOAL SHOWDOWN Six of Eight Qualifiers Winless in Funny Car Bonus Race INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Robert Hight may not win Sunday's 24th annual Skoal Showdown, companion event to the 51st annual Mac Tools ...
HIGHT-FORCE MATCH-UP IS KEY IN 24TH SKOAL SHOWDOWN
Six of Eight Qualifiers Winless in Funny Car Bonus Race
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Robert Hight may not win Sunday's 24th annual Skoal Showdown, companion event to the 51st annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, but that isn't likely to diminish the 36-year-old rookie's stature among either his Funny Car peers or others who closely follow the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Just making the eight-car field was an extraordinary accomplishment given the fact that Hight drove in six fewer races than every other driver in the starting lineup. He put the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang in the show on the last day of the 23rd and final event in which drivers could accumulate qualifying points.
By starting No. 1 at last month's O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis, Tenn., Hight at least gave himself an opportunity to win the $100,000 top prize. Eight months ago, he didn't have a chance. In fact, one probably would have been laughed off the planet at the mere suggestion of such a possibility.
In fact, it appeared that his only shot at getting the car that won the 2004 Skoal Showdown in the field for the 2005 renewal was former driver Gary Densham's offer to sign over the points he earned in the final six races last season. It was a magnanimous gesture, but one that was rejected outright by the NHRA.
Had Hight been able to count Densham's qualifying points, putting him on even ground with the rest of the Funny Car field, he would have been the No. 1 qualifier instead of No. 8.
Regardless, the former trapshooting champion is in the show. If there is a downside, it is that he is paired with boss and father-in-law John Force, driver of the national record-holding Castrol GTX Start Up Ford.
Force, who was the top qualifier for the Skoal event (formerly the Big Bud Shootout) for 15th time in the last 16 years, is in position to race a teammate for the championship for the third straight year -- if everything goes according to plan.
He lost to Tony Pedregon and the Castrol SYNTEC Ford in the 2003 final; to Densham and the Auto Club Mustang a year ago.
Should the 56-year-old racing icon, a 13-time series champion, get past Hight, he would oppose either Del Worsham or Tony Pedregon in the semifinals. On the other side of the ladder, Eric Medlen will drive the Castrol SYNTEC Ford in which Pedregon was a three-time Showdown finalist. Medlen gets Tommy Johnson Jr. in round one and, if he advances, likely would find himself opposite Gary Scelzi in the semifinals.
Medlen and Hight, both making their first career appearances in the Showdown, are among the six qualifiers who have never won the Showdown.
The exceptions are Force, who's won five times, and Tony Pedregon.
"I guess I'm going to have to go out and teach the rookie a lesson," Force said of his first round race. "Seriously, Jimmy Prock and Robert did a heckuva job just to get the Auto Club Ford in the race. But I'm not giving him a break just because of that. I'm tired of losing to my guys in this race."
"It's going to be fun," Hight said. "It's win-win for us because we know one of these Fords is going on to the next round."