HIGHT DEFENDS FUNNY CAR TITLE AT O'REILLY SPRING NATIONALS 2005's Top Rookie Has Eye on POWERade Championship HOUSTON, Texas (March 31-April 2, 2006) -- If Robert "Top Gun" Hight continues to mimic the career of teammate Eric Medlen,...
HIGHT DEFENDS FUNNY CAR TITLE AT O'REILLY SPRING NATIONALS
2005's Top Rookie Has Eye on POWERade Championship
HOUSTON, Texas (March 31-April 2, 2006) -- If Robert "Top Gun" Hight continues to mimic the career of teammate Eric Medlen, expect him to wind up in the winners' circle in this week's 19th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park .
The defending Funny Car champion at HRP, Hight will try to repeat at the wheel of a revamped version of the Jimmy Prock-prepared Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang in which he set the track speed record (326.16 miles per hour) a year ago.
Medlen, Hight's former crewmate on the John Force-driven Castrol GTX® Ford, was the tour's top Funny Car rookie two years ago when he finished fifth in NHRA POWERade points at the wheel of the Castrol® SYNTEC® Ford.
Hight followed suit last season when he earned the Automobile Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA circuit's overall Rookie-of-the-Year. Along the way, he won twice and duplicated Medlen's fifth place finish.
This week, though, the soft-spoken Hight is confronted with a new challenge. Medlen was successful in his first title defense (repeating last year at the Lucas Nationals at Brainerd, Minn.) Hight now will try to do the same.
If he is unsuccessful, it won't be because of overconfidence.
"I'm still learning," said the former trapshooting champion, "and I hope I never stop. Just driving a car at this level is a dream come true, but to win races and contend for a championship, that was awesome.
"The truth is, it wasn't my driving. It was John giving me a chance and it was Jimmy Prock giving me a great race car. I made a lot of mistakes, but I think I learned from them," Hight continued. "I definitely think we're a better race team already this year than we were last year."
It would be difficult to argue with that assessment considering the fact that Hight won the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., thereby thrusting himself prominently into contention for a championship that barely escaped him a year ago. He rolls into Houston third in the standings, 59 points behind leader Ron Capps.
A student of the sport, Hight spends hours reviewing videotape of each of his quarter mile runs, frame-by-frame, to determine exactly what happened -- and why.
It's the kind of attention to detail one would expect of a world class marksman, one of the few to have achieved a target shooting Grand Slam: 200 successive targets from the standard distance (16 feet), 100 straight from the maximum handicap distance (27 feet) and 100 consecutive doubles (two targets at one time).
Reigning series champion Gary Scelzi was one of the first to recognize Hight's potential, accurately predicting, before the season began, that the 36-year-old would be the 2005 Rookie-of-the-Year.
Ironically, Hight led everyone, including Scelzi, as late as August, before a series of first round losses cost him a legitimate shot at the title.
"John won all those championships because he was able to win rounds even when he didn't have a dominant car," Hight said. "That's what we haven't learned to do yet. But we're getting better."
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"It's amazing how your confidence can fluctuate so much. You can go and win a race and make four great runs and two weeks later, something happens, you get out of the groove and your confidence is down again." -- ROBERT HIGHT, after starting the season with a win at Pomona, Calif., and a first round loss at Phoenix.
Robert Hight won last year's O'Reilly Spring Nationals wire-to-wire, qualifying No. 1 and then stopping Bob Gilbertson, Tommy Johnson Jr., teammate John Force and Cruz Pedregon.
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.