Charlotte: Robert Hight preview

HIGHT WANTS TO BUILD CHAMPIONSHIP MOMENTUM IN CHARLOTTE CHARLOTTE (September 8, 2008) --- When Robert Hight rolled his Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to the starting line for his final round race versus Jack Beckman at the...


CHARLOTTE (September 8, 2008) --- When Robert Hight rolled his Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to the starting line for his final round race versus Jack Beckman at the 54th Mac Tools US Nationals he wasn't thinking about history even though it had been over 30 years since a Funny Car driver had reached three consecutive final rounds at the biggest race of the season. He wasn't thinking about how his Ford Mustang was going to perform even though it had smoked the tires on five of its previous seven runs. All Robert Hight was thinking about was cutting a great line and winning.

That is all Hight thinks about when he pulls to the starting line; cut a great light and get to the finish line first. It doesn't matter if it is the finals of the Mac Tools US Nationals, a Saturday afternoon qualifying run or a Monday morning test run. Hight is singularly focused.

"I try to do my best every single time I go to the starting line whether it is a test run or a qualifying run or whatever. I don't change what I do. I'm not going to over think that now it is do or die. I don't believe in that. You have to go up there and do what you know how to do to the best of your ability," said Hight. "You have to block out all the rest of it. You have to take it one run at a time. If we do what we know how to do we will collect the most round wins and win this thing."

Entering the first race of the Countdown to 1 at the Bruton Smith's palatial zMax Dragway at Concord has Hight excited but not distracted. Hight knows that everyone will be on an even playing field and it will come down to driver skill and focus. The two time POWERade Funny Car championship runner-up does not lack either of those two attributes.

Hight knows that his team led by crew chief Jimmy Prock can overcome insurmountable odds with enough time and their determination.

"You keep giving my crew chief Jimmy Prock a chance and he is going to fix it and we will win. He just got too many chances (in Indy)," said Hight. "I wasn't that nervous because honestly ... we just had to do the best we could. Whatever was going to happen would happen. So many guys kept coming in front of the care wishing us luck and telling us to do good. Austin Coil gave me his usual 'No pressure.' He doesn't realize that scares me to death. Having all these guys behind you, it is unreal."

For the last month Hight was furiously trying to reel in POWERade points leader Tim Wilkerson and his commanding points lead in an effort to land in the number one spot for the Countdown to grab the extra 20 bonus points. While Hight and former JFR teammate Tony Pedregon were unsuccessful in passing Wilkerson they are both closer than they have been since the first quarter of the season. Hight is just 40 points out of first place and only 10 points behind Pedregon for the number two spot. Points will not come easy over the next six races but the compressed point structure will certainly give Hight a strong early shot at making a move up the standings.

With four John Force Racing Ford Mustangs in the Countdown to 1 -- the most of any multi-car team -- Hight will have to work with and sometimes against some of the toughest drivers in 2008.

Team leader John Force has 14 POWERade championships to his credit and extended to 22 the number of consecutive years he has won at least one NHRA POWERade national event when he took the Wally in Topeka. The elder Force knows how to handle pressure and there is nothing he hasn't done in a Funny Car.

Teammate and sister-in-law Ashley Force is making a run at history in 2008 that the sport has not seen in many years. She followed in Hight's footsteps picking up her own rookie of the year trophy in 2007, winning her first race in Atlanta and leading the Funny Car point standings earlier this season. She will be one of Hight's toughest foes considering her Dean Antonelli tuned Mustang has been one of the most consistent race cars all season.

The last teammate that could pose a threat to Hight's championship bid could be rookie Mike Neff and the Old Spice team. Led by crew chief John Medlen Neff has reached three finals this season and is the only rookie in any professional class to make the Countdown to 1. The former world champion crew chief turned driver has proven a tough customer on race day for Hight with a 3-2 round record.

The win at the Mac Tools US Nationals didn't give Hight new confidence since that is one character trait the former trapshooting champion does not lack but it did give him momentum. He knows that winning and beating the hottest drivers, points leader Wilkerson and streaking Jack Beckman, will give them more to think about if and when they pull up beside his Auto Club Ford Mustang.

Hight has been in this fight before and this season he is not planning on coming up short. The race for his first championship begins in Charlotte and he is more than ready.

"I honestly believed the day I stepped into this car that it could win a championship if I could do my job. I knew the team and (crew chief) Jimmy Prock with the resources we have from the get go it could win a championship. The big question was; can the driver do his job? In the beginning until you have won races and done anything you don't know. It is not that you doubt yourself you just don't know because you haven't done it. I still haven't won a championship but I know I can. There is no doubt in my mind."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Austin Coil , John Medlen , Mike Neff