ALL EYES ON AUTO CLUB FORD MUSTANG AS POWERADE TOUR MOVES TO DENVER Rookie Hight Among Favorites in Mopa Mile-High Nationals DENVER, Colo. -- When the NHRA POWERade drag racing tour moves this week to Bandimere Speedway for the 26th annual ...
ALL EYES ON AUTO CLUB FORD MUSTANG AS POWERADE TOUR MOVES TO DENVER
Rookie Hight Among Favorites in Mopa Mile-High Nationals
DENVER, Colo. -- When the NHRA POWERade drag racing tour moves this week to Bandimere Speedway for the 26th annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals, the Funny Car on which most of the attention will be focused isn't John Force's national record-holding, Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang.
Nor is it the Oakley Dodge in which three-time former NHRA Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi has won twice this season in his bid to end Force's championship reign.
Instead, it is the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford driven by Force's son-in-law and Next Generation teammate, Robert "Top Gun" Hight.
It is in that car, prepared by crew chief Jimmy Prock, that Hight won at Houston, Texas, was runner-up at Atlanta, Ga., and qualified No. 1 four times in the first half of the 2005 season, twice as often as any other driver.
"I think probably the only reason we aren't No. 1 (in POWERade points) is because I'm still learning," said the rookie from Alturas, Calif. "Jimmy's given me a race car good enough to win at almost every race. He really has a handle on the tune-up.
"So if the driver can just catch up," he said, "there's no reason why we can't win the championship."
That's a bold assessment from a driver who, until last February, never had driven a race car of any kind in competition. However, it's one supported by the record.
In the season's first 12 races, Hight qualified no worse than sixth and started either first, second or third eight times. Even more impressive, the 35-year-old former trapshooting champion and former Force crewman had either the quickest or second quickest first round time in 10 races.
No wonder, then, that the blue-and-white Ford and it's rookie driver are attracting so much attention from Force, Scelzi and the other championship contenders.
Scelzi, for one, hasn't found the rookie's performance that surprising. In fact, he all but predicted it.
"Robert Hight will be 'Rookie of the Year,'" he told nhra.com before the season began. "He's a marksman and the concentration he uses in that sport is really helping him in the car. I've seen him test and he'll be a big player."
To Scelzi's dismay, Hight, a former California state trapshooting champion, has made him look like a prophet.
After all, with a half season to go, the father of Force's only grandchild, 10 month old Autumn Danielle Hight, has all but locked up the 2005 Auto Club Road to the Future award that annually identifies the NHRA's Rookie of the Year.
Moreover, despite his self-deprecating remarks, Hight has adapted quickly to the cockpit, the result not only of the powers of concentration he developed in shooting but also of the year he spent as the official test driver for John Force Racing.
Throughout what thus far has been a spectacular debut season, Hight has managed to remain solidly grounded due in some part to the fact that, when he flies home between races, he reverts to being a crewman -- spending a day or two in the JFR shop refurbishing superchargers for all the Team Castrol Fords.
Did You Know? Robert was the clutch specialist on John Force's Castrol GTX Funny Car during five championship seasons (1995-1999) before becoming the manager of the JFR shop facility in Yorba Linda, Calif....barring a catastrophe, the Mile-High Nationals will be the 100th race in which Jimmy Prock has had a Funny Car starter. His record in 99 previous races is 125-90, a mark that reflects nine tour victories, eight with former driver Gary Densham and one with Robert.