Columbus: Robert Hight preview

ROOKIE HIGHT AIMS FOR POINTS LEAD IN NATIONAL TRAIL RACEWAY DEBUT Rookie Sends Auto Club Ford After Second Win COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In another time, Robert Hight might be spending his weekend 100 miles down the road in Vandalia, site of the ...

ROOKIE HIGHT AIMS FOR POINTS LEAD IN NATIONAL TRAIL RACEWAY DEBUT
Rookie Sends Auto Club Ford After Second Win

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In another time, Robert Hight might be spending his weekend 100 miles down the road in Vandalia, site of the American Trapshooting Association Grand American, the world's largest target shooting competition.

This week, though, Hight will take the skills that made him a champion marksman and apply them to driving the 330 mile-an-hour Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford for John Force Racing.

After coming within .002 of a second of becoming the first rookie in 13 years to lead the NHRA driver standings, Hight takes another shot at No. 1 when the NHRA's POWERade Drag Racing Series moves this week to National Trail Raceway for the 41st annual Pontiac Performance Nationals.

Not since Cruz Pedregon in 1992 has a rookie led the NHRA point . However, had Hight beaten Force in last week's all-Castrol final in Atlanta, Ga., he would now be leading the race for the 2005 POWERade championship.

Instead, because he won the closest race of the entire event in the Atlanta final, Force comes in 35 points ahead of his rookie teammate instead of five behind.

"Unbelievable" is how Hight has referred to his season thus far. A former crewman on Force's Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford, the 35-year-old never had driven competitively in any drag racing vehicle before the start of the current campaign.

As a result, there was widespread criticism of Force's decision to put Hight in the Auto Club Ford this season, especially since the soft-spoken California native is married to the 13-time champion's oldest daughter Adria and is the father of his only grandchild, Autumn Danielle.

In just four races, Hight silenced almost all of those critics. That's how long it took for him to win his first race, beating 1992 series champion Cruz Pedregon in the final round of the April 10th O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston, Texas.

Twice he has started from the No. 1 qualifying position and, in seven career races, he's qualified no lower than No. 6.

That's pretty heady stuff, but Hight is trying to take it in stride.

He credits crew chief Jimmy Prock, teammate Eric Medlen and a year of service as the team's official test driver for his early success and his emergence as the runaway leader in the race for the 2005 Auto Club Road to the Future award that identifies the NHRA's professional rookie-of-the-year.

Prock, perhaps the brightest young crew chief in the series, first distinguished himself in the Top Fuel dragster class where he directed Cory McClenathan and Hall of Famer Joe Amato to 21 tour victories.

In his first full season as a Funny Car crew chief, he twice put veteran Gary Densham in the winners' circle, a ritual he repeated in each of the next three seasons. Moreover, in his hands, the Auto Club Ford has become a car always capable of posting the event's quickest quarter mile and fastest speed.

Medlen, second year driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford, worked with Hight as a member of Force's crew and the two have remained connected as the 116-time tour winner's driving teammates.

"Eric went through all the rookie stuff a year ago," Hight said, "and he's walked me through every bit of it. I would never be where I am without him and without Jimmy and the whole team. If there's a weak link in the Auto Club team, it's me, because I still have so much to learn."

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Joe Amato , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight