Baytown: Robert Hight preview

HIGHT RETURNS TO SITE OF FIRST WIN, LOOKING FOR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP HOUSTON (March 24, 2008) --- It has been three years since Robert Hight won his first NHRA POWERade event at Houston Raceway Park. Since that win he has racked up 100 round wins...

HIGHT RETURNS TO SITE OF FIRST WIN, LOOKING FOR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP

HOUSTON (March 24, 2008) --- It has been three years since Robert Hight won his first NHRA POWERade event at Houston Raceway Park. Since that win he has racked up 100 round wins faster than any professional in the fuel categories - Top Fuel or Funny Car --, finished No.2 in the point standing the past two seasons and become one of the most feared Funny Car drivers of the modern era. His meteoric rise has not come without serious heartache though.

Hight and the rest of the John Force Racing team skipped the 20th installment of the O'Reilly Spring Nationals last season out of respect for their fallen teammate Eric Medlen. Following the Gatornationals Medlen was involved in an on-track testing accident that ultimately ended his short but exceptional life. Skipping the race was a tough decision for everyone involved and at the end of the season Hight looked back on his unsuccessful quest for a championship -- one he fell 19 points short of -- and realized nothing could have made the season truly successful.

"Even if we had won the championship," Hight said, "that wouldn't have made it a great year. In fact, there's not much that would have made it even a good year because we'll never have Eric back. I miss him, miss him like you can't believe."

The Auto Club Ford Mustang that Hight will attempt to win his 10th NHRA event with is dramatically different than the race car he won his first race in. It is one hundred pounds heavier, has a wider cockpit with enhanced padding, and sports a three rail chassis all changes mandated by NHRA and tested by The Eric Medlen Project -- a stand alone safety program that John Medlen leads for John Force Racing. The majority of the chassis enhancements were implemented during a hectic two month off-season that forced Hight to sacrifice valuable testing time early in the season to insure that his Mustang was as safe as possible. All the changes have him excited about the upcoming season and his trip to Texas.

"I like to race everywhere but the fans in Texas are great. I'll be representing AAA of Texas there. It is like (Hall of Fame crew chief) Dale Armstrong told me you will always remember the first win and he was right," said the former trapshooting champion. "I am ready to go back and do it again. We'll be better prepared to win when we get to Houston. Maybe in Houston we'll get four qualifying runs. We'll get her."

The condensed pre-season testing sessions were further compromise by Mother Nature who also impacted two for the first three national events cutting qualifying sessions in half at Phoenix and Gainesville. The end result has forced Hight and his all-star team led by crew chief Jimmy Prock to take more chances in elimination rounds with their tune-up than they normally would.

"The amount of runs we've had versus what we should have had is we are probably down twenty runs. It makes it hard to get a handle on the Mustang especially with all the new changes," said the former JFR crewman. "In the past two races we have only had four qualifying runs total. We have had to take some chances on Sunday (during eliminations) but luckily we are still in the points lead."

Two final round appearances to open 2008 -- including a win at the season opening Winternationals- have Hight positioned at the top of the point standings but a first round exit in Gainesville two weeks ago inserted a fair amount of doubt in the team's long range plans.

Dropped cylinders were becoming a consistent problem for the 2005 Rookie of the Year, a problem that they chased for two races. During a much needed family mini-vacation in Orlando Hight received a call from Prock that made him rest easier and should cause many sleepless nights for the rest of the Funny Car class. Prock had found the problem that was ailing the team in Gainesville.

"There is nothing worse than not doing well at a race and then leaving without knowing what was wrong with your race car. Getting that (phone call) from Jimmy was huge. You never know because we could go down to Houston, get rain and only get two runs like we have the past two races. Without fixing the problem we could have been in real trouble. Now I think we'll be ready for anything and the car should be running as good as it was in Phoenix."

With a number of kinks worked out Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang are looking to hold onto the No. 1 points position and continue to make this season one to remember for all the right reasons.

Did you know...

Robert Hight was the fastest driver in the history of the nitro classes (Top Fuel or Funny Car) to reach 100 round wins. He achieved this milestone with his season opening win at the CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals pushing his round win record to 101-58.

Hight is the only Funny Car driver to have led the points each of the last four seasons.

Robert owns the two quickest quarter mile times in Funny Car drag racing history at 4.646 and 4.636 seconds, the first recorded at Pomona, Calif., and the latter at Phoenix, Ariz., both at the start of the 2007 season.

The O'Reilly Spring Nationals was the first event Robert Hight won (2005).

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , John Medlen