Pomona: Robert Hight preview

Hight Sends Auto Club Ford after Winternationals Crown POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 9-12) -- Robert Hight made POWERade Funny Car champion Gary Scelzi look like the "Nostradamus of Nitromethane" last season when, per Scelzi's bold pre-season ...

Hight Sends Auto Club Ford after Winternationals Crown

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 9-12) -- Robert Hight made POWERade Funny Car champion Gary Scelzi look like the "Nostradamus of Nitromethane" last season when, per Scelzi's bold pre-season prediction, he won the Automobile Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie of the Year.

This year, with a season of experience behind him, one in which he won at Houston and Denver and led the point standings for five weeks, the 36-year-old former clutch technician looms as one of the principal threats to Scelzi's continued reign atop the sport's most competitive category.

Hight's championship bid begins this week at Auto Club Raceway where his Jimmy Prock-prepared 2006 Auto Club Ford Mustang is expected to be among the 7,000 horsepower hybrids battling for the No. 1 qualifying position -- and a $4,000 Skoal Shootout bonus -- in the 46th annual CARQUEST Winternationals.

"I learned a lot last year," said the former trapshooting champion, "but I still have a lot to learn. The (2005) season exceeded all my expectations. I tried to be realistic and tell myself that if we could qualify for all the races and maybe be lucky enough to win one, that would awesome.

"But Jimmy Prock kinda got in the way of that," he laughed.

Indeed, Hight reached the winners' circle in just his fourth professional race, his fourth race of any kind since he never had driven competitively in any motor racing discipline before getting a chance in one of father-in-law John Force's Ford Mustangs.

Ultimately, he appeared in four finals and, significantly, started from the No. 1 qualifying position a category best six times.

That not only made him a runaway choice for Rookie-of-the-Year, it also enabled him to finish fifth in points ahead of such veterans as Tony Pedregon, Cruz Pedregon, Del Worsham, Whit Bazemore and Tommy Johnson Jr.

But that was then.

"It was a great season," Hight said, "but it could have been better. I made a lot of rookie mistakes and I know that cost us. It's like (trap)shooting. You have to be perfect and I wasn't perfect.

"You just have to take those experiences and make them work for you to get better.

"Last year, I think the whole team saw what was possible," he continued. "We led the points and against the teams that are out there right now, that's awesome. But we didn't lead at the end and that's our motivation for this year.

"It's pretty exciting. We made some improvements over the winter and this new Mustang body is very user-friendly. It's going to be easier to make adjustments for track conditions."

Hight, who was the clutch tech on Force's Castrol GTX Ford during five championship seasons (1995-1999), used that "other side of the cockpit" experience to his advantage last season. He also put to good use the skills that made him a California state trapshooting champion at age 15.

"Concentration is the most important thing in both sports," he said. "You have to block out all the distractions and focus on the job. That helped last year, but I wasn't prepared for the pressure. I thought I was, because there's a lot of pressure in shooting. But in shooting, if you fail, you only fail yourself. Here, if you fail, you've let down not just your team, but John's team and Eric's team and the guys back at the shop. It's a big responsibility."

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Cruz Pedregon , Robert Hight