Hight - Ford interview 2009-01-20

This Week in Ford Racing Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang Funny Car, finished fourth in the NHRA Funny Car standings in 2008 after posting back-to-back runner up results in 2006 and 2007. Hight will ...

This Week in Ford Racing

Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang Funny Car, finished fourth in the NHRA Funny Car standings in 2008 after posting back-to-back runner up results in 2006 and 2007. Hight will once again team with 14-time champion John Force, 2007 Rookie of the Year Ashley Force and 2008 Rookie of the Year Mike Neff to comprise the lineup for John Force Racing. Hight took a few minutes to chat with TWIFR about the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Series.

COMPARE WHERE YOU AND THE TEAM ARE AT THIS POINT IN 2009 TO WHERE YOU WERE IN PREPARATION FOR THE 2008 SEASON. "I think we are in better shape as far as going out and contending for a championship and winning races because last year was so chaotic. Last year, a week before we went testing in January, we were still putting together all the cars that we had completely redesigned. It was a total redesign of the chassis after all the accidents we had in '07. At that point, performance and winning races wasn't really the focus of ours. This year we are still focused on safety, we haven't put that on the back burner at all, but we are also looking at where we needed to improve in '09 from '08. What was the main problem that we all faced? We have put all our heads together, all the crew chiefs and focus on being more competitive and getting back on top, which is where we believe we belong."

FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT YEAR YOU WENT TO THE FINAL RACE IN CONTENTION FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP. UNFOTUNATELY, FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT YEAR YOU NAROWLLY MISSED WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP. ARE YOU PROUD OF THE CONSISTENCY OF BEING IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENTION IN THE FINAL RACE OR ARE YOU FRUSTRATED BY THE NARROW MISSES? "It is a consistent run to be on the cusp three straight years, but it also goes back to the fact that we need to be in the driver's seat come the last race of the year. We need to be the guy that everyone else is chasing and not have to wait until the last day to catch up or be right there to win. We want to lock this thing up early. It will take a lot of hard work and a lot of technology to be successful. In fact, Ford was at the shop last week working with us on a new programs that should help us with our consistency our performance and ultimately win races."

YOU MENTIONED THE EMOTIONAL 2007 SEASON. IN 2008 THERE WERE SEVERAL MILESTONES FOR THE TEAM. JOHN WON AT TOPEKA AND WON HIS ONE THOUSANDTH RUN. ASHLEY WON FOR THE FIRST TIIME. MIKE NEFF WON ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AND YOU WON THREE RACES AND CAPTURED THE U.S. NATIONALS AND WERE A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER IN THE FINAL RACE. DO YOU TAKE PRIDE IN THAT THE TEAM HAD SUCH SUCCESS COMING OFF THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE PRIOR YEAR? "Big time. I have a lot of pride in what we were able to accomplish, as a team last year in a short period of time; that was phenomenal. We simply wouldn't have been able to make the to make the chassis changes and improve the level of safety without Ford Racing. Ford was the major backbone behind the changes. We consider ourselves very fortunate to be involved with Ford to have their engineers at our disposal for all these projects. Safety and performance are what we are all about."

IT IS THE START OF A NEW YEAR. HANDICAP THE FUNNY CAR FIELD AND WHO DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE TITLE CONTENDERS? "You have the start with the Pedregons (Tony and Cruz), who have won the championship the last two years and they will always be tough. The new combination of Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca joining together and they will both be driving Ford Mustangs, so they will be tough. Tim honestly should have won the championship last year; without the Countdown to 1, he would have. Teaming Tasca, who is a good driver in the Motorcraft / Quick Lane car, with him will help them both because now they have two cars to share data with where before they were always a single car. All the Schumacher cars will be tough, and then there are my own teammates. I still think Funny Car will be the class to watch for competition. I think there will be a lot of different winners and even with the tough economic times I think Funny Car will be the strongest class because there should be 18-20 good cars every week and that means there will be a good car sitting out on Sunday."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET OFF TO A FAST START? IS THERE AN ADVANTAGE TO GETTING THE FIRST WIN IN THE FIRST COUPLE OF EVENTS? "I won the first event last year and I was in the final at the next event and I still didn't win the championship. I do think it is big, but with the new Countdown to 1 it isn't as important as it used to be simply because the points reset mid- year and you have a fresh start. For the morale of everybody involved with the program it is important to get out there and get a few wins under your belt early."

HOW BIG OF AN ADVANTAGE IS IT FOR JOHN FORCE RACING TO HAVE FOUR CARS? "The four-car team only works because of the people that John has assembled. If we were butting heads and didn't all get along and race and work together it wouldn't be a good deal. To his credit, John has put together four teams of good people that work well together. It is a big advantage to share data and one team can try something and if it is good we can share with each other and really it is a continuous learning curve. The key is the interaction and in our case it is four teams working as one."

LAST YEAR, IN THE INTEREST OF SAFETY, THE NHRA CHANGED THE RACE DISTANCE FROM THE TRADITIONAL QUARTER-MILE TO ONE THOUSAND FEET. THIRTEEN RACES, OR JUST OVER HALF A SEASON, HAVE BEEN RUN AT THE NEW DISTANCE WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CHANGE? "I don't mind it a bit. If it were half-track you still have to get to the finish line first. Wherever they (NHRA) say the finish line is, that is my goal is to get there first. I think the 1000- foot is necessary for a lot of the race tracks because there isn't sufficient shut down area and it is impossible to move the race track and change it. So, the change is necessary unless they put in place performance limitations, which I am not a big fan of. I think it should be the 1000- foot and get there as quick as you can. Hopefully, we will see Funny Cars turning three-second times this year. I did that in '07 (3.95 to 1000- foot), and last year I had the quickest run at 1000-foot at four-flat. It won't be a regular occurrence, but in perfect conditions with a great race track and the team being set up and having the opportunity to really go for it I think you will see some three-second times."

WHAT WAS THE BEST PART OF THE OFF SEASON? "Spending time with my family. We are gone for 24 events and with testing and match races and appearances we are gone a lot with everything we do. It was great to spend the time at home, and my daughter is four so Christmas was really special. It is funny because when I thought I was going to win the championship going into the final race at Pomona, I was looking at the offseason and thinking, 'I am really going to enjoy this winter and enjoy some time off.' When I lost, my perspective changed and I was ready to get right back out there. We just have to work harder so we can be where we want and need to be."

-credit: ford racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Robert Hight , Mike Neff