ROOKIE HIGHT ON THE FAST TRACK IN PURSUIT OF CARQUEST VICTORY Auto Club Ford Races From Second Place in Points JOLIET, Ill. -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight rolls into this week's eighth annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in ...
ROOKIE HIGHT ON THE FAST TRACK IN PURSUIT OF CARQUEST VICTORY Auto Club Ford Races From Second Place in Points
JOLIET, Ill. -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight rolls into this week's eighth annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in second place in NHRA POWERade Funny Car points behind only one driver: boss, teammate and father-in-law John Force.
It's rare air for a driver competing in just his 10th professional event, especially one who, until he climbed into the cockpit of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang last February at Pomona, Calif., never before had driven competitively.
However, the former crewman on Force's Castrol GTX Mustang has performed like anything but a novice thanks in no small part to a year-long apprenticeship as the official test driver for John Force Racing, Inc.
That experience, which regularly put him in the cockpit of one, and sometimes two, of the JFR Fords for Monday test sessions, gave the former trapshooting champion a head start on most rookies in the series and he has made the most of it.
With crew chief Jimmy Prock working his mechanical magic on the Auto Club Ford, the most consistent car in the series over the last 15 races, the 35-year-old Hight started three of the season's first nine races from the No. 1 qualifying position including the most recently contested event the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan.
He earned a breakthrough victory at Houston, Texas (in only his fourth career start) and, three weeks ago, was denied a second win by just .002 of a second, the margin by which Force beat him in the final round of the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Atlanta, Ga.
Now, he gets his first crack at a track that has emerged as the quickest and fastest on the circuit, one on which Force set the current NHRA national Funny Car records last fall when he was clocked in 4.665 seconds at 333.58 miles per hour.
Hight believes he has a car not only capable of matching those numbers, but one good enough to win the $400,000 POWERade championship.
"We have a car that definitely can win the championship," Hight said. "If there's a weak link, it's me because I'm still learning every time down the track.
"I know if the driver performs, we've got a chance to win every race because Jimmy definitely has a handle on the tune-up."
Ironically, Hight might never have been afforded the opportunity to realize his dream if his battery-mate at JFR, Eric Medlen, hadn't delivered such a strong performance in his rookie season in the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford.
"If Eric had failed, Robert wouldn't have gotten his chance," Force said. "Because of Eric (who won last year at Brainerd, Minn.), when I went into the boardroom, it was a lot easier to sell them on Robert."
An added benefit has been Medlen's interaction with Hight. The two already had a relationship, having served together on Force's crew, but the bond has been reinforced since they have become "student drivers" -- along with 22-year-old Ashley Force -- in a program calculated to create the Next Generation of JFR champions.
"Eric went through all the rookie stuff a year ago," Hight said, "and he's walked me through every bit of it. I never would be where I am without him."
Although he would love to get a shot at the kind of conditions that allowed Force to lower the NHRA national record three times in the last four years at Route 66 Raceway, Hight won't be terribly disappointed in the weather is hot and sticky.
"We've run 4.70s in the cool and we've run 4.70s in the heat," Hight said, "so I think Jimmy will have an answer for whatever we see in Chicago. I'm just fortunate to be the guy getting to drive."