HIGHT HOLDS HOTTEST HAND AS TOUR MOVES TO PHOENIX Auto Club Driver Hopes to Maintain Performance Edge PHOENIX, Ariz. -- 4.646! That's the jaw-dropping number that flashed on the scoreboard two weeks ago when Robert "Top Gun" Hight deployed the...
HIGHT HOLDS HOTTEST HAND
AS TOUR MOVES TO PHOENIX
Auto Club Driver Hopes to Maintain Performance Edge
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- 4.646! That's the jaw-dropping number that flashed on the scoreboard two weeks ago when Robert "Top Gun" Hight deployed the braking parachutes on the 8,000 horsepower Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, one of four John Force-owned Funny Cars vying for a starting spot in this week's 23rd annual Checkers/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals at Firebird International Raceway.
Not only was it the quickest Funny Car clocking in history, it was the quickest by .016 of a second. In a sport in which races are won or lost by thousandths of a second, it was the equivalent of a sprinter running the 100 meter dash in 9.81 seconds -- three hundredths under the current Olympic record.
It's the kind of performance that has underscored Hight's meteoric rise in the NHRA POWERade Series, one in which he looms as the heir apparent to Force, his teammate, mentor and father-in-law.
With Jimmy Prock turning the wrenches on the Auto Club entry, Hight has become a major player in drag racing's primary series in just 47 starts.
The former crewman, married to Force's oldest daughter Adria, sat on the drag racing equivalent of the "pole" in just his third race. He won in just his fourth start in a 2005 season culminating in his acceptance of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the circuit's top rookie
Last year, he chased Force to the championship before finishing second, losing his momentum when a supercharger failure on the burnout took him out in the first round of the next-to-last race of the campaign. This year, his eye-popping 4.646 in the semifinals of the season-opener sent rival crew chiefs and mechanics scrambling to their computers and dynamometers looking for answers in a performance battle in which the stakes suddenly have been raised.
Despite that performance, Hight is neither the POWERade points leader nor the official NHRA national record holder as the tour rolls into Firebird.
The former can be explained by the fact that the 37-year-old lost in the final round of the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., when his Mustang put a right rear tire just over the center line, negating an apparent win over Gary Scelzi.
The latter is a little more difficult to clarify. Although there was no question of the authenticity of Hight's effort, especially since the performance was supported by the incremental times measured at 330 feet, 660 feet and 1,000 feet, the NHRA, for record certification purposes, requires a back-up run within one per cent.
That means that to satisfy a requirement considered by many to be a throwback to another era, Hight needed a second run of 4.692 seconds or better. He had run 4.693 during qualifying, but that was one thousandth too slow. In the final, he was on his way to a time that most certainly would have been quick enough before his Ford started to drift toward the center of the track.
As a result, for the time being, Jack Beckman remains the lame duck record holder at 4.662 seconds in the MTS Dodge.
"Over the winter, I predicted that someone would run .64 in Funny Car," Hight said, "(but) to do it at the first race in front of all our fans and sponsors was pretty cool.
"Jimmy looked at the data from last year and, if you took our best run to halftrack and our best run from halftrack to the finish and put them together, it would've run 4.64. The challenge is putting it all together. You have very few perfect runs in this sport. It seems like there's always room for improvement."
Although Hight doesn't expect to run 4.64 at Firebird, he won't say that it's impossible.
"I think Jimmy could make this thing run 4.60s down a dirt road," he said of his Auto Club Mustang. "And remember, (Ron) Capps ran 4.67(8) during testing here last month, so who knows what's possible. It seems like somebody raises the bar every race."
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Did You Know:
Robert Hight had closed to within 54 points of father-in-law John Force in the 2006 NHRA POWERade points race when a supercharger failed on the burnout before the first round of racing in the next-to-last event of the season.
In more than half the races he has run as a pro (25 of 47), Robert Hight has started either first or second. His qualified No. 1 more often (15 times) than any other Funny Car driver over the last two-plus seasons. Robert is a world-class marksman, a former trapshooting champion who turned down a chance to try out for the U.S. Olympic team because it would have interfered with his racing career.