Gainesville: Robert Hight preview

HIGHT HEADS TO GAINESVILLE WITH RESPECT AND HOPE GAINESVILLE, FLA (March 7, 2008) --- Robert "Top Gun" Hight has a high level of respect for the drivers that have won and competed at Gainesville Raceway for the past four decades. He knows it is...

HIGHT HEADS TO GAINESVILLE WITH RESPECT AND HOPE

GAINESVILLE, FLA (March 7, 2008) --- Robert "Top Gun" Hight has a high level of respect for the drivers that have won and competed at Gainesville Raceway for the past four decades. He knows it is a special place for a variety of reasons, some happy and some sad.

Gainesville and Gainesville Raceway are home to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame and the first 300 mph run in drag racing history. This is one of the few tracks on the NHRA tour where Hight is the current track record holder for elapsed time and speed at 4.686 seconds, 331.94 mph. But Gainesville is most special since it was here that Hight shared the race track with his good friend and teammate Eric Medlen for the last time.

"This is honestly a race I want to win really badly. This is where the Hall of Fame is and this is where you get great crowds for the races. It is unbelievable how many people turn out plus all the sponsors and older racers; guys that have won championships and are Hall of Famers. That is one race I really want to win," said Hight, the current Funny Car points leader.

It was just a year ago that Medlen sustained fatal injuries the day after the Gainesville event during a tragic testing accident that cut short one of the most promising young careers on the NHRA tour.

Hight continued to battle for his first championship without his fallen teammate, coming 19 points short of his goal and finishing second for the second year in a row. Those 19 points might as well have been a thousand. Even if Hight would not have voluntarily skipped one NHRA national event to honor his lost teammate and failed to qualify for two subsequent races, garnering enough points for a championship trophy would not have filled the void left by the loss of Medlen.

"Even if we had won the championship," Hight said, "that wouldn't have made it a great year. In fact, there's not much that would have made it even a good year because we'll never have Eric back. I miss him, miss him like you can't believe."

Hight knows he will never put the loss of Medlen completely behind him and he has his eyes set on winning his first Gatornationals for the Auto Club Ford Mustang team. A finalist the first two races of the season -- a feat he also accomplished to open the 2007 season -- the former world class marksman is gunning for three finals in a row and hopefully a second win.

Since the last Gainesville event a total overhaul of safety measures has been implemented on all four John Force Racing Ford Mustangs. In addition the NHRA recently mandated a stronger and heavier chassis for the Funny Car class, the first significant change to the chassis in over 25 years.

The added weight has forced ever Funny Car team to go back to the drawing board to generate the additional horsepower needed to power their 8,000 hp full-bodied land rockets. Hight, crew chief Jimmy Prock, and the Auto Club crew have spent every waking hour assembling race cars and then trying to get as much information out of them on the limited testing schedule to open the season.

Unfortunately a number of delays and bad weather in the usually sunny Phoenix desert thwarted many opportunities forcing Hight and Prock to risk qualifying sessions and even elimination rounds to try and figure out their Auto Club Ford Mustang.

"We have been testing during qualifying and on race day and we are still getting to the finals. If we have a good test session tomorrow (day after Phoenix event) then I think heading to Gainesville we'll be looking pretty good."

In Phoenix Hight inconsistent track conditions derailed the Yorba Linda, Calif., resident's bid to go two for two in the win column.

"I left on him (eventual winner Jack Beckman). Jimmy said the track wasn't exactly what he thought it was going to be. He thought it was going to be quite a bit better this late in the day and it wasn't. We were rushed and didn't have time to take weight off."

Still opening the season with two final round appearances has Hight ready for more success in 2008.

"I have a good feeling about the way this year started especially with as few amount of runs that we have made. We didn't get full qualifying (in Phoenix), we only got two shots. The amount of runs we have to this point in the year versus what we should have had is we are probably down twenty runs."

Hight is optimistic about the tune-up and set-up on his 2008 Auto Club Ford Mustang even though his team was penalized 15 points for oiling down the track in Phoenix.

"The oil down was a malfunction. It wasn't a tune up-issue. I still feel better right now than I did (at the start of the Phoenix event). After qualifying we were hurting it pretty bad and that 4.76 in the first round showed that we have this Mustang a little happier. It is really pulling (accelerating) in the middle of the track and that run was the quickest run in Funny Car this year."

When Hight takes to the track in Gainesville he knows he will be racing on hallowed ground. He has a healthy respect for the people that came before him and the people that have left him too early in his career. He is thankful for all their sacrifices and leadership.

"If Eric hadn't been successful, I probably never would have gotten the chance (to drive for John Force Racing) plus, he walked me through everything in my rookie year. It was pretty tough to come to the races without one of your best friends," Hight said. "It's amazing how many people Eric touched. He was a great guy. More than winning races and anything else, he was a true champion because he made everyone around him happy (and) that is the greatest thing."

Did you know...

Robert Hight was the fastest driver in the history of the nitro classes (Top Fuel or Funny Car) to reach 100 round wins. He achieved this milestone with his season opening win at the CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals pushing his round win record to 101-58.

With a win at the Gatornationals Hight would be the fourth different JFR driver to win there after John Force, Tony Pedregon and Gary Densham.

Hight is the only Funny Car driver to have led the points each of the last four seasons.

Robert owns the two quickest quarter mile times in Funny Car drag racing history at 4.646 and 4.636 seconds, the first recorded at Pomona, Calif., and the latter at Phoenix, Ariz., both at the start of the 2007 season.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham , Jack Beckman , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight