AS EXPECTED, HIGHT NAMED TOP ROOKIE IN NHRA POWERADE DRAG RACING SERIES Auto Club Driver Claims Auto Club's Road to the Future Award RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight, who drove the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford...
AS EXPECTED, HIGHT NAMED TOP ROOKIE IN NHRA POWERADE DRAG RACING SERIES
Auto Club Driver Claims Auto Club's Road to the Future Award
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight, who drove the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to two NHRA POWERade tour victories this season, was introduced Monday as the winner of the Auto Club's 2005 Road to the Future Award.
The Road to the Future award, which annually identifies the NHRA tour's Rookie-of-the-Year, was one of several presented during the season-ending awards banquet at the Westin Mission Hills Resort.
Hight, 36, who finished fifth in Funny Car points as a rookie teammate to 13-time series champion John Force, was selected from among three other first year drivers: Jack Beckman, 39, of North Hills, Calif., Erica Enders, 21, of Houston, Texas, and Chip Ellis, 35, of Americus, Ga.
"It was an honor just to be nominated," Hight said, "but to win this award for the Auto Club and my teammates at John Force Racing is unbelievable. The thing is, I don't feel like I've done anything special. I'm up here because John gave me a chance and because Jimmy Prock and the crew gave me a great race car.
"My goal is to prove worthy of this honor by continuing to improve as a driver. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I'm in the best place I could be to achieve all my career goals," said the one-time trapshooting champion.
In addition to the prestige of the award, Hight also accepted a check for $20,000 from the Auto Club.
A former crewman on Force's Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, Hight never had driven competitively in any category, in any racing discipline, before he climbed into the Auto Club Funny Car at last February's CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway.
He qualified the blue-and-white Ford No. 1 in only his third race (the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.) and won in just his fourth start (the O' Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston, Texas). He later added a victory in the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Denver, Colo., was the No. 1 qualifier a category-leading six times and, in mid-season, led the POWERade point standings for five races.
"For more than 100 years (the Auto Club) has represented integrity, commitment and professionalism to our millions of members," said Thomas V. McKernan, president and CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California. "The Road to the Future Award has come to symbolize these same attributes in (drag racing)."
The winner was selected by a panel of 100 national motorsports journalists through a voting system based on the number of events contested, performance on and off the race track, participation in NHRA promotions and relationships with fans, sponsors and media.
In 2002, the Road to the Future Award and the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year Award were combined to create a single program recognizing the future stars of the sport. First winner of the combined award was Pro Stock driver Gene Wilson in 2002. Second generation driver Brandon Bernstein was the 2003 winner and Pro Stock driver Jason Line the 2004 honoree.
Eric Medlen was a finalist for the award a year ago after earning a breakthrough victory at Brainerd, Minn., at the wheel of the Castrol SYNTEC Mustang. Medlen finished fourth in this year's driver standings, one position ahead of Hight. He was runner-up at the season-ending Auto Club Finals completed Sunday at Pomona.
Past winners of the Road to the Future Award, before it was combined with the NHRA rookie award, were Tony Pedregon (1996), Ron Capps (1997), Doug Kalitta (1998), Antron Brown (1999), Melanie Troxel (2000) and G.T. Tonglet (2001). NHRA first recognized a Rookie-of-the-Year in 1996 when Mike Edwards and Matt Hines were jointly honored. Other honorees were Gary Scelzi (1997), Jeg Coughlin (1998), Scotty Cannon (1999), Don Lampus (2000) and Darrell Russell (2001).
Scelzi was among four professional champions honored Monday night. He beat teammate Ron Capps and Force for the 2005 Funny Car championship, becoming just the second driver in NHRA racing history to win titles in the sport's top two categories. He was the NHRA Top Fuel champ in 1997, 1998 and 2000.
Joining Scelzi at the podium were 2005 champions Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Matt Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).