Bristol: Robert Hight preview

HIGHT LOOKING FOR ANSWERS AS TOUR MOVES TO TENNESSEE Auto Club Driver Believes Success Lies in the Details BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight analyzes game film like a pro football quarterback, poring over each of his runs on videotape,...


Auto Club Driver Believes Success Lies in the Details

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight analyzes game film like a pro football quarterback, poring over each of his runs on videotape, frame by frame, looking for anything that he might have done wrong; anything that might make his next trip down the drag racing quarter mile just a little bit quicker: 4.698 seconds, for instance, instead of a 4.702.

That attention to detail helped earn Hight last year's Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as the NHRA's Rookie of the Year and that same meticulousness has stamped the soft-spoken 36-year-old as a future POWERade Funny Car champion.

Nevertheless, it hasn't provided any acceptable explanation as to why his Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang, one of the most powerful vehicles on the planet, has meekly bowed out of the last two races in the very first round.

"That's the frustrating part of this sport," Hight said as he prepared for this week's sixth annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. "Sometimes there's no simple explanation. Two cars may be set up exactly the same. One will go down the track, through the tricky area, and the other one won't."

Hight's frustration is compounded by the fact that he and his team haven't been able to put together a complete performance in five races this year.

At the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., for instance, he barely made the starting lineup (No. 12) but then won the race, the only one of the three John Force Racing drivers to have made it to the winners' circle thus far this season. And he won in spectacular fashion, posting the quickest quarter mile time in each of the four rounds.

By contrast, at the most recent event in the NHRA POWERade Series, the Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hight made the quickest run of his career (4.702) to earn the No. 1 starting spot. He then exited in the very first round when his Mustang lost traction the moment he hit the throttle.

The race before that, he qualified second at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston, Texas, only to have a supercharger drive belt snap in the first round while he was driving away from rival Bob Gilbertson.

The upshot is that after leading the points early in the season, as he did in 2005, Hight has slipped to fourth in the latest standings.

"I've got a really good car and a really good team," Hight said, "but as competitive as the Funny Car class is right now, you to not take advantage of opportunities like we've had (the last couple of races). But that's just racing. We'll just keep going back out there and it'll turn around for us."

In addition to analyzing film and poring over computer data, Hight joins crew chief Jimmy Prock every Sunday in walking the racetrack before the start of eliminations.

"Every track is straight and every track is a quarter mile long," Hight said, "but that's all that's the same. They all have little things about them the average fan probably doesn't see. There are bumps. There are dips. The groove is way to inside in some lanes and outside in others. The way some of guardwalls are painted. The lighting. All those things effect how you drive the car.

"You might not be able to avoid a dip or a bump, but it's important to know what to expect," Hight said, "because the worst thing is to be surprised.

"I still consider myself a rookie," he explained. "I know I still have a lot to learn and being around Jimmy, (Austin) Coil, Bernie (Fedderly), John Medlen and, of course, John (Force) and Eric (Medlen), there's no better place to learn than right here."

* * * *

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. He added a seventh "pole" two weeks ago at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he was the No. 1 qualifier at the Nationals.

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).

Robert is married to John Force's oldest daughter, Adria, and is the father of the 13- time Funny Car champion's only grandchild, one-year-old Autumn Danielle Hight.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Gilbertson , John Force , Robert Hight , John Medlen