Gainesville: John Force Racing preview

With Feet Back On The Ground, Hight Still Flying On NHRA Tour After Two Straight Runner-Ups, Former Top Rookie Leads Points GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Two weeks ago he was soaring with Angels. This week, back on Mother Earth, Robert Hight hopes he ...

With Feet Back On The Ground, Hight Still Flying On NHRA Tour
After Two Straight Runner-Ups, Former Top Rookie Leads Points

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Two weeks ago he was soaring with Angels. This week, back on Mother Earth, Robert Hight hopes he hasn't lost his wings.

The NHRA POWERade points leader, who took an hour-long ride in one of the Blue Angels' F/A-18 Hornets, isn't expected to slow his pace at least not by much when the tour moves this week to Gainesville Raceway for the 38th annual ACDelco Gatornationals.

Son-in-law of 14-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force, Hight has emerged as the heir apparent to the Force Racing legacy in just two-plus seasons at the wheel of the Jimmy Prock-prepared Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang.

In fact, at each of the season's first two races, the 37-year-old native Californian has lowered the "quickest ever" numbers in the Funny Car division even though he has not managed to grab the "official" record.

At Pomona, Calif., he was clocked in 4.646 seconds en route to runner-up in the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals. Two weeks later, at Phoenix, he stopped the timers in 4.636 seconds while again claiming runner-up honors, this time in the CSK Nationals at Firebird International Raceway.

That consistency powered the former Force crew member into first place for the third time in his career -- once in each season.

"It's way too early (to be talking about the championship)," Hight said. "Besides, this year it's a different format and everybody is still figuring it out. Last year, we led after the first race, but then we didn't win but one round in the next five races. That's really what cost us the championship, not what happened at Las Vegas (where a supercharger malfunction set him home in the first round of the season's next-to-last event)."

The 2005 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award that identifies the NHRA Rookie of the Year, Hight finished second a year ago. It's not a position with which he would be satisfied this year.

"We want to win the championship and we think we have a car that can do that," he said. "Of course, as long as one of these Fords gets the trophy, that'll make it an overall success."

"These" Ford Mustangs include the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford belonging to Force himself, a car that has reached the winners' circle seven times before at the Gatornationals; the Castrol GTX Mustang driven by Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Ashley Force; and the Auto Club/Pleasant Holidays Ford capably handled by Eric Medlen.

Surprisingly, Medlen's is the second highest-placed of the Fords, sharing the No. 5 spot with Mike Ashley's Dodge. The Castrol GTX entries have yet to win a round, no surprise for Ashley but a big surprise for John, who entered the race having qualified for 394 consecutive NHRA events dating back to the start of the 1988 season.

That streak, considered by many to be the most impressive in Force's bulging resume, was seriously in jeopardy at the first two races. At each event, the 57-year-old drag racing icon was outside the 16-car field, looking-in, on his fourth and final qualifying attempt.

Although he managed to wrestle the green-and-white Ford into the show, he was ousted the first round on both occasions, the first time that's happened to open a season since 1989.

As a result, Force rolls into Gainesville outside the Top 10 for just the third time in his career. As in 1989 and again in 2003, Force enters the race in 12th place, tied with Mike Ashley. His daughters is just one point and two positions behind him.

Nevertheless, it would be ludicrous to discount drag racing's biggest winner who's won at least one NHRA tour event for 20 straight seasons and at least three for 17 years.

"We've been dropping holes (a drag racing euphemism for misfiring cylinders)," Force said, "but (crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) will figure it out and I'll get back on my game."

As for Ashley, she has been solid in her first two events but has come away without a round win and, more disappointing to her, without being a part of pre-race driver introductions, which were scrapped because of schedule delays at each of the first two events.

Just the 10th woman licensed to drive in the Funny Car division, the graduate of California State University-Fullerton, is trying to become the first female in seven years to win a racing round in Funny Car, the first ever to reach the finals, to win a race and to finish in the Top 10.

* * * *

Did You Know: John Force has qualified for a record 394 consecutive NHRA tour events dating back to the start of the 1988 season. The last time he failed to put a Castrol GTX Funny car in the 16-car starting lineup was Oct. 31, 1987 at Pomona, Calif. The second longest streak in history was 303 races by Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson. The second longest active streak is 162 races by Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta. The second longest active Funny Car streak is 71 by Force's teammate, Eric Medlen.

Driving Force: A second season of the real-life series starring John Force, wife Laurie and their three drag racing daughters begins March 27th on A&E Network. The show moves from Mondays to Tuesdays this season at a new time, 10 p.m., Eastern.

Blue Angels: "It was awesome. I didn't know what to expect, but it was a great experience. At one point we were pulling about 7.6 Gs and I just about blacked out. I never got sick and by the end of the trip I was very comfortable in the cockpit." -- Robert Hight on his experience in one of the Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornets flying out of El Centro, Calif:

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , John Force , Doug Kalitta , Mike Ashley , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight