EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN AS HIGHT DEFENDS INDY CROWN Auto Club Driver Among Favorites in 53rd Mac Tools U.S. Nationals INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Defending Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Champion Robert Hight seems to change chassis with the ...
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN
AS HIGHT DEFENDS INDY CROWN
Auto Club Driver Among Favorites in 53rd Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Defending Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Champion Robert Hight seems to change chassis with the frequency his rivals change their motor oil.
In fact, the 38-year-old driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang will have new pipe beneath him for the fourth time this season when pro qualifying begins Friday for the 53rd annual U.S. Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park.
Unfortunately for Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock, the changes haven't been a matter of choice. Each one was dictated by circumstances largely beyond their control.
In the most recent incident, the chassis "over-flexed" in a first round victory two weeks ago at Reading, Pa., breaking a support bar and twisting the rear tubing to such an extent that it rendered the Mustang "unraceable" and, for all intents, un-fixable.
However, that may have been the best result for Hight and the worst for Funny Car rivals against whom he is competing this week in the opening round of the NHRA's inaugural Countdown to the Championship playoff series.
That's because the car he's driving is the re-incarnation of the one with which he began the year; the one in which he recorded the two quickest quarter miles in Funny Car history 4.646 seconds at Pomona, Calif., and 4.636 seconds at Phoenix, Ariz.
That particular car carried Hight to the final round in four of his first five starts this season and put him briefly in the POWERade points lead before it banged both guardwalls following an engine explosion and fire at Topeka, Kan.
However, following the Reading incident, which left the team with few options, Prock, Hight and car owner John Force commissioned chassis builder Murf McKinney to resurrect the "Topeka car."
In essence, McKinney Corporation technicians cut off the tubing at the front wheels and grafted a new front end onto the existing frame. Hight hopes that the new pipe generates old results.
"I think we'll be fine," he said. "This team has gone through an awful lot the last two years and it's been very resilient. We've been able to overcome a lot and dealing with those challenges, when you win, it's even sweeter."
The 2005 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year, Hight actually was on cruise control before the tour got to Topeka. Since then, it's been one thing after another.
First of all, the chassis in the back-up car proved to be completely unpredictable. While Hight qualified No. 1 two times in its five-race tenure, he also suffered the first and only qualifying failure of his career (at Joliet, Ill.) and never advanced beyond the second round.
As a result, he had a third different chassis beneath him for the annual Western Swing portion of the pro tour. That's the chassis that carried him to consecutive semifinal appearances before it failed at Reading, putting him back in the rebuilt car in which he started the season.
Of course, every incarnation of the Auto Club Ford has shared one characteristic. Each has been very quick. Again this season, Hight has been the performance leader especially during the qualifying phase which begins Friday at ORP.
Six times this year, Hight has started from the head of the pack in an Auto Club Ford in which he set the ORP Funny Car speed record (331.04 miles per hour) last year as the No. 2 qualifier behind his father-in-law (Force).