HIGHT OPTS FOR NEW CHASSIS AS TOUR MOVES TO BANDIMERE Auto Club Ford Mustang Tries to Regain Lost Consistency DENVER, Colo. â€“ Borrowing a page from father-in-law John Force's playbook, Robert "Top Gun" Hight hopes to have new pipe beneath...
HIGHT OPTS FOR NEW CHASSIS
AS TOUR MOVES TO BANDIMERE
Auto Club Ford Mustang Tries to Regain Lost Consistency
DENVER, Colo. – Borrowing a page from father-in-law John Force's playbook, Robert "Top Gun" Hight hopes to have new pipe beneath him this week when the NHRA POWERade drag racing tour moves to Bandimere Speedway for the 28th renewal of the Mopar Mile-High Nationals.
Although there purportedly is no difference between the McKinney chassis the team has used the last four races and the one it is adapting for this week's event, Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock agreed that it was time for a change because something has been very, very wrong with their track record-holding Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, the first Funny Car to break the 4.80 second barrier at altitude.
After terrorizing the Funny Car division through this season's first half dozen races, winning twice and posting the two quickest quarter mile times in Funny Car drag racing history 4.644 seconds at Pomona, Calif., and 4.634 seconds at Phoenix, Ariz. the 8,000 horsepower Ford suddenly has developed a split personality.
A finalist in four of his first five starts this year, Hight was on cruise control when an engine explosion and fire sent his Ford crashing into both guardwalls and then into the sand pit after a June 3 semifinal victory in the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka in Kansas. Things haven't been the same since.
Forced into a back-up car because of chassis damage, Hight has won just two rounds since Topeka and, at Joliet, Ill., suffered the first qualifying failure of his career. As a result, after watching Force change both his chassis and his fortunes with a victory last week at Bristol, Tenn., Hight and Prock were motivated to follow suit.
Indeed, it has been a perplexing two months for a team still expected to figure prominently in the Countdown to the Championship. Prock has struggled with "dropped cylinders" that have impacted his ability to make adjustments to the engine and clutch. The upshot is that the talented crew chief has changed almost every component on the car since his team's early season dominance.
Things came to a head last week at Bristol when Hight was beaten on a first round "hole shot" by journeyman Jim Head, losing despite a quicker quarter mile time. The numbers notwithstanding, Prock doesn't believe it was his driver's fault.
"No one's more consistent on the (starting line)" he said. "You look at his (reaction) times and they usually don't vary more than a couple thousandths. The problem is the car just isn't reacting. He hits the throttle and it doesn't move, at least it doesn't move like it used to."
The Mile-High Nationals, the most challenging event in the series due to Bandimere Speedway's mile-high elevation, would not seem to be the ideal race for a team to change something as fundamental as the chassis.
However, it is an event in which Prock has been exceedingly successful, both with John Force Racing and, earlier, with five-time former NHRA Top Fuel dragster champion Joe Amato, for whom he was crew chief from 1995 through 2000.
Prock tuned Amato to back-to-back Mile-High victories in Top Fuel in 1999 and 2000 before winning with Hight in the Auto Club Funny Car in 2005.
For his part, Hight is looking beyond this week's race.
"Our goal the next five races is to develop the best car we can to race for the championship," he said. "When we get to the Countdown (a six-race shootout that begins with the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis), it's not going to be the fastest car that wins it all, it's going to be the car that's the most consistent and we're not there yet."
A seven-time tour winner, Hight rolls into Bandimere in second place in Funny Car points behind Ron Capps.