Team Castrol Pre-Race Package/Hight HIGHT TRIES TO FOLLOW DENSHAM'S LEAD IN FIRST U.S. NATIONALS START Points Leader in Car That Doubled-Up a Year Ago INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. â€“ Rule one in professional drag racing is that rookie drivers ...
Team Castrol Pre-Race Package/Hight
HIGHT TRIES TO FOLLOW DENSHAM'S LEAD IN FIRST U.S. NATIONALS START
Points Leader in Car That Doubled-Up a Year Ago
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Rule one in professional drag racing is that rookie drivers don't win championships. Rule two is that they don't win the sport's oldest, richest and most prestigious single event, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, which will be contested this week for the 51st time at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and Robert "Top Gun" Hight is looking more and more like he might be one of them.
A former member of the support crew on father-in-law John Force's Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford, Hight already is a lock to win the Automobile Club of Southern California's Road to the Future award that annually identifies the top rookie on the tour.
With two wins to his credit along with six No. 1 qualifying awards, Hight has been atop the NHRA POWERade standings after each of the last five events, the first rookie to lead the Funny Car points in 13 seasons.
Nevertheless, the 36-year-old Californian has even more lofty ambitions.
With one of the most respected young crew chiefs in the business behind him and a 4.723 second, 330 mile-an-hour Auto Club Ford Mustang beneath him, Hight believes that if he does his job, there's no reason why his team can't win Indy AND the $400,000 POWERade championship.
Of course, it isn't only this year's performance that has stamped the former trapshooting champion as one of the U.S. Nationals favorites.
There's also the memory of 2004 when his predecessor, Gary Densham, drove virtually the same Jimmy Prock-prepared Ford Mustang to a Labor Day weekend victory in both the U.S. Nationals and the Skoal Showdown bonus race.
"Since Indy, last year, this has been the best car in the series," Hight said. "The only question mark was the driver."
Nevertheless, instead of being a liability, something one might expect from a driver who, until last February, never had driven competitively in a race car of any kind, Hight has proven to be an asset.
"I think his shooting background has shortened the learning curve for him," said teammate Eric Medlen who, as driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford has won three of the last five races in the series. "He's got great concentration skills."
Gary Scelzi, a three-time former NHRA Top Fuel champion and one of the drivers immediately behind Hight in the standings, is another believer. He tabbed the rookie as a contender from the moment he first saw him during winter testing.
"Robert Hight will be 'Rookie of the Year,'" Scelzi told nhra.com. "He's a marksman and the concentration he uses in that sport is really helping him....he'll be a big player."
Nevertheless, neither Scelzi nor Force really expected the native of Alturas, Calif., to be leading the point standings with just six races remaining. In fact, Scelzi and Force were expected to lock up in a two-man battle for the championship. Instead, they come into Indy in third and fourth place, respectively.
As for Hight, he is trying to maintain his focus in the white hot glare of the spotlight.
"I still have a lot to learn," he said. "I've made some mistakes but I've got a great crew behind him and Jimmy Prock has given me a race car every week that's had a chance to win. He's the man who makes us go. I'm just a guy who was in the right place at the right time. It's an honor to drive this race car."