AFTER HOUSTON DISAPPOINTMENT HIGHT SEEKS RETRIBUTION AT LVMS Auto Club Ford Driver Focused on POWERade Championship LAS VEGAS, Nev. (April 7-9) -- Robert Hight isn't exactly riding a wave of momentum into this week's seventh annual ...
AFTER HOUSTON DISAPPOINTMENT HIGHT SEEKS RETRIBUTION AT LVMS
Auto Club Ford Driver Focused on POWERade Championship
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (April 7-9) -- Robert Hight isn't exactly riding a wave of momentum into this week's seventh annual SummitRacing.com Nationals, but last year's winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award (as the Rookie-of-the-Year on the NHRA POWERade tour) is confident nonetheless.
Despite a first round loss in last week's O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston, Texas, Hight is excited about his return this week to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track on which he first broke the 330 mph and 4.70 second barriers.
He also is excited about his Auto Club team and its bid to reclaim the 2006 NHRA Funny Car championship for John Force Racing, Inc., and Team Castrol.
Why all the excitement from someone who was on the sidelines so early just one week ago? Because what happened at Houston was totally out of his control, out of the control of crew chief Jimmy Prock and out of the control of the crew. It was a parts failure, pure and simple. And not a $20,000 part, either.
After qualifying second at a rock-solid 4.721 seconds, the 36-year-old Californian and the Auto Club Ford Mustang were on their way to an apparent easy first round victory when a supercharger drive belt snapped, leaving Hight powerless while Bob Gilbertson motored by him for an unexpected win.
"That was the nicest, smoothest pass of the weekend until the blower belt gave way," Hight said. "(The car decelerated so quickly that) my head nearly hit the dashboard. I'm just glad to get to Vegas so we don't have to dwell on a loss that was totally out of our control.
"I think we had the car to win last week and I think Jimmy Prock has a set up that can win us a championship."
That's brash talk from the usually soft-spoken Hight, but it reflects his confidence in an Auto Club team that was a question mark at the start of the season. With five new crew members, neither Hight nor Prock new exactly what to expect.
They got their answer at the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., where adversity yielded opportunity. After barely making the starting field, the crew gave Hight a car that posted the quickest quarter mile time in every round of racing, culminating in a victory over current points leader Ron Capps.
Third in the current POWERade point standings, Hight is the only John Force Racing driver to have won a race thus far this season. However, Hight admits that it seems like a year since he celebrated in the winners' circle in California.
Since that triumph, the third of his career, his team has made both cosmetic and structural changes to the car.
Now in place is a new 2006 Ford Mustang body, the one that was damaged on Hight's first qualifying run at the Winternationals. Without a 2006 backup, the team was forced to pull a 2003 model out of mothballs and, when it too was damaged in a second round engine fire, to commandeer another from at static display on the racetrack grounds. It was that body which made it to the winners' circle.
Underneath the 2006 shell is a new chassis. Almost new, at least. It's a freshened-up version of the slip-tube chassis the team used last season. Not only was it front-halved, it also has been modified with "stops" that limit that amount of slippage at certain key points.
All Hight knows is that everything is working right now.
"We're a lot better right now than we were at this time last year," he said. "If there's a weakness, it's the driver. But I'm learning every time I go down the track."
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Robert is a former trapshooting champion, one of only a few marksman to have achieved a trapshooting grand slam by hitting 200 consecutive targets from 16 feet, 100 from 27 feet and 100 doubles (two at once).
As a rookie, Robert Hight started a category-best six races from the No. 1 qualifying position and was quickest in the first round in 12 of 23 races.
Married to John Force's oldest daughter, Adria, Robert is the father of the 13-time champion's only grandchild, Autumn Danielle Hight.