HIGHT BACK IN PRESSURE COOKER AT SUMMIT SOUTHERN NATIONALS Rookie Sends Auto Club Ford After Second Win ATLANTA, Ga. -- As the rookie driver of one of the world's most powerful race cars and successor to popular veteran Gary Densham, Robert...
HIGHT BACK IN PRESSURE COOKER AT SUMMIT SOUTHERN NATIONALS
Rookie Sends Auto Club Ford After Second Win
ATLANTA, Ga. -- As the rookie driver of one of the world's most powerful race cars and successor to popular veteran Gary Densham, Robert Hight knew that he would be under pressure this year to perform at a very high level at the wheel of the 330 mile-an-hour Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang.
A former trapshooting champion and crewman on father-in-law John Force's national record-holding Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang Funny Car, Hight thought he was equipped to handle it.
Nevertheless, while he has performed beyond most people's expectations -- winning last month at Houston and twice starting races from the No. 1 qualifying position, Hight admits that the intensity of the pressure has been much greater than he had anticipated.
It's an issue he will confront once again this week when the NHRA POWERade tour moves to Atlanta Dragway for the 25th running of the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals.
A world class marksman who three years ago turned down the opportunity to tryout for the U.S. Olympic shooting team so he could follow his racing dream, Hight said the pressure of trapshooting, a sport in which one must hit 100 to 200 targets in succession without a miss, pales in comparison to the pressure of driving a race car.
"I think the shooting helps a little bit, but there was never any pressure like this," he said after winning at Houston. "In shooting, if you failed, it was just you, you failed. But once you're in that race car, all the work that everybody has done is in your hands and if you fail, you fail a whole team. That's real pressure."
Despite his own concerns, Hight effectively has silenced those who had questioned his qualifications. The No. 1 qualifier at Gainesville, Fla., and Houston, he has started the season's first six races from no further back than No. 4 and he comes into the Southern Nationals in fifth place in POWERade points.
Nevertheless, success hasn't gone to his head.
"I can't believe it," he said. "I couldn't believe it when I was doing the clutch on John's car. I thought I'd made it then, but now to have an opportunity to drive a car of this caliber for a crew chief like Jimmy Prock, for a car owner like John Force, for sponsors like AAA, Ford and Castrol, I'm just very lucky."
Married to Force's oldest daughter, Adria, and the father of the six-time Atlanta winner's only grandchild, Autumn Danielle, Hight might never have gotten his chance if Tony Pedregon hadn't left John Force Racing after winning the 2003 championship in the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford.
"When Tony left, we had some decisions to make," Force said. "We could have gone with a big name driver who already was established, but we were looking long term for somebody who could grow with us. We decided to give Eric (Medlen, son of SYNTEC crew chief John Medlen) a chance."
The younger Medlen, like Hight, had been a crewman for nine years. Furthermore, like Hight, he had no previous driving experience outside of a couple laps in an A/Fuel dragster.
Nevertheless, the gamble paid off when Medlen won last August at Brainerd, Minn., en route to a fifth place finish in the driver standings.
"Bottom line, if Eric had failed, Robert wouldn't have gotten a chance," Force said.
Now that's been afforded that opportunity and has emerged as John Force Racing's second straight rookie-of-the-year candidate, Hight is making his father-in-law look like a genius.