HIGHT RIDING A ROLLERCOASTER IN PURSUIT OF FUNNY CAR TITLE 2005 Rookie-of-the-Year Tries to Rebound at Gators GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 17-19) -- Robert Hight's rollercoaster ride to a possible NHRA POWERade Championship continues this...
HIGHT RIDING A ROLLERCOASTER IN PURSUIT OF FUNNY CAR TITLE
2005 Rookie-of-the-Year Tries to Rebound at Gators
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 17-19) -- Robert Hight's rollercoaster ride to a possible NHRA POWERade Championship continues this week at Gainesville Raceway where the 2005 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award (designating the NHRA Rookie of the Year) hopes to regain the stroke that made him a winner in the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.
Hight, a former trapshooting champion who served for five championship seasons as a crewman on father-in-law John Force's Castrol GTX® Ford, was reminded of the tenuous nature of drag racing success last month when he followed up his third career win with a first round exit in the CSK Nationals at Phoenix, Ariz.
As a result, he enters the 37th annual ACDelco Gatornationals in fifth place in NHRA POWERade Funny Car points, just one round back of leader Ron Capps.
His goal this week is to regain the lead on a racetrack on which he is the Funny Car record holder for quarter mile time at 4.749 seconds and on which crew chief Jimmy Prock won three years ago with the Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang and then driver Gary Densham.
"Looking at the guys who are going to be the hitters," Hight said, "if we could have gone some rounds (at Phoenix), we'd have been in really good shape. But we didn't. I thought if it went down the track the first round and ran any kind of (4.70) that we'd win the round and that would've been the case.
Instead, the Auto Club hybrid shook the tires, forcing Hight to abort the run and handing the victory to Tommy Johnson Jr., who went on to win the race.
"We're still trying to fight this (tire) issue," Hight said. "We flatten the (rear) tire too much and (the car) doesn't make driveshaft speed quick enough, but I still have high expectations. We're still better off this year than we were last year and, when it's all said and done, we're going to be in the mix."
However, Hight, who started last year's Gatornationals from the No. 1 qualifying position as a rookie, won't have one of last year's weapons at his disposal this time: the element of surprise.
After going to the final round four times, winning twice and starting from the No. 1 position a category-best six times as a rookie, the soft-spoken Californian silenced all of those who questioned his credentials when Force put him in the Auto Club Mustang even though he never before had driven competitively.
Nevertheless, despite the presence of five new crew members, Hight is enthusiastic about his chances this year.
"We've got a great team," he said. "Even before we won Pomona, I thought we were better than we were a year ago but this class is so competitive right now that you can't make a mistake and get away with it. The 16 cars that qualify, any one of them could take you out and win the race."
Despite his considerable early driving success, Hight remains wary.
"I've still got a lot to learn," he said, "and I don't plan to ever stop (learning). To be with Jimmy Prock, the Auto Club and this team. There's no place I'd rather be."
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Notable: Robert Hight earned his first career Skoal Showdown No. 1 qualifying bonus on a track record-setting run (4.749 seconds) at last year's Gatornationals
Quotable: "It's amazing how your confidence can fluctuate so much. You can go and win a race and make four great runs and two weeks later, something happens, you get out of the groove and your confidence is down again. -- ROBERT HIGHT.
Notable: Since 1987, no John Force Racing driver ever has gone through a season without a victory. Force has won a race for 19 straight seasons for Castrol GTX; Tony Pedregon won at least one race in each of his nine years in the Castrol SYNTEC Funny Car; Gary Densham in each of his four years in the Auto Club Ford; Eric Medlen in both seasons in the SYNTEC Ford; and Robert Hight in his first season -- and now his second -- season in the Auto Club Ford.