HIGHT ON TARGET IN TITLE BID AT NATIONAL TRAIL RACEWAY Auto Club Driver Coming Off Strong Showing at Atlanta COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The last time he was in contention for a major Ohio sports championship, Robert Hight used an Italian-made...
HIGHT ON TARGET IN TITLE BID
AT NATIONAL TRAIL RACEWAY
Auto Club Driver Coming Off Strong Showing at Atlanta
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The last time he was in contention for a major Ohio sports championship, Robert Hight used an Italian-made Perazzi shotgun to cut down 98 of 100 clay targets in the Grand American trapshooting championships at Vandalia.
This week, the soft-spoken Californian returns to the state in pursuit of another title. Only this time, the stakes are much higher, the weapon more potent and the pressure even more intense.
Coming off a record-breaking performance two weeks ago at Atlanta, Ga., Hight is one of the Funny Car favorites in the 42nd annual Pontiac Performance Nationals beginning Friday at National Trail Raceway.
The similarities between drag racing, which features 7,000 horsepower vehicles capable of zero-to-330 mile per hour acceleration in just 4.6 seconds, and trapshooting may be lost on the average American, but for Hight, second year driver of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, they're all too obvious.
"Both require hand-eye coordination and concentration," Hight said, "and you have to be able to handle pressure. I've got lots and lots of tapes on eye exercises that teach you how to focus. It helps. The biggest thing, though, is that whether you're shooting or driving, you have to be perfect. You don't get a second chance."
As a marksman, Hight was good enough to win a California state championship at 15. He also recorded a trapshooting Grand Slam, hitting 200 straight targets from 16 yards, 100 straight from 27 yards and 100 doubles (two targets at once).
As a driver, he has proven to be a natural.
Although he never had driven competitively at any level before last season, Hight won in just his fourth start, led the driver points for five races, started a category-best six times from the No. 1 qualifying position and was rewarded with the 2005 Auto Club Road to the Future Award, which identifies the pro tour's Rookie of the Year.
That breakthrough season now behind him, Hight has emerged as a legitimate contender for the $400,000 POWERade Championship won 13 of the last 16 years by mentor -- and father-in-law -- John Force.
In fact, he is the only one of the three John Force Racing Funny Car drivers to have won a race this season; the only one to have led the points.
Furthermore, after suffering through a five-race downturn during which he won only one round of racing, Hight rebounded with a vengeance two weeks ago when he coaxed the Auto Club Ford through the quarter mile timers in a career 4.680 seconds en route to runner-up honors in the Summit Racing Southern Nationals.
He was denied his fourth victory by a mere .009 of a second.
"It was really disappointing," Hight said of the final round result, "because we had a great car, but the important thing is that Jimmy (crew chief Jimmy Prock) has worked through the problems we were having. I can't wait to get this Auto Club Mustang back on the track at Columbus."
Most important to Hight and certainly most disconcerting for the competition is the fact that his Ford ran its best Atlanta numbers in the afternoon heat 4.700 in the first round and 4.680 in the second. That could be critical with the series now moving into the summer heat.
The main difference between his two sports of choice, Hight said, is that shooting is more of an individual sport.
"If anything goes wrong, you really can't blame anyone else," he said. "It's just you out there. It's a lot different in racing which requires so many different people doing their jobs exactly right -- and that includes the driver."