HIGHT TRYING TO GET HIS GROOVE AS NHRA TOUR MOVES TO ROUTE 66 Auto Club Driver a Contender in CARQUEST Nationals JOLIET, Ill. -- With crew chief Jimmy Prock, Robert Hight walks the racetrack every Sunday morning before climbing behind the...
HIGHT TRYING TO GET HIS GROOVE AS NHRA TOUR MOVES TO ROUTE 66
Auto Club Driver a Contender in CARQUEST Nationals
JOLIET, Ill. -- With crew chief Jimmy Prock, Robert Hight walks the racetrack every Sunday morning before climbing behind the wheel of the 330 mile-an-hour Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang in which he is pursuing the 2006 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.
A layman might be inclined to wonder why. After all, by definition, the standard drag racing track is exactly 1,320 feet in length. It's straight as guitar string and, for the most part, it's flat. What's not to know?
According to Hight, last year's NHRA Rookie of the Year and one of the favorites in this week's ninth annual CARQUEST Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, there's plenty to be gleaned from such excursions.
For instance, last year, before his debut at Route 66, he noticed that the racing groove, the "sweet spot" in each lane that provides maximum traction properties, moves very abruptly from outside to inside, not just in one lane, but in both.
"Right past 60 feet, the groove moves inside real fast," Hight said, "and when you look at it, it's pretty obvious why. (When you leave the starting line), the guardwalls on both sides are black with a lot of sponsor identification. But right at 60 feet, (the guardwall) turns bright white.
"I think that subconsciously the white jumps out (when you see it in your peripheral vision) and you drive away from it."
It is knowing such things that has made Hight such a quick study and helped the 36-year-old qualify his 7,000 horsepower Ford on the drag racing "pole" nine times in his first 32 pro races. He comes into Route 66 having started the last two races from No. 1 and having set track records in three of the last five events.
As a result, he might be the one driver capable of snatching the NHRA national record from the grasp of boss and teammate John Force, who set the current standard (4.665 seconds, 333.58 miles per hour) 18 months ago (Oct. 3, 2004) at Route 66.
Hight, the only one of the Team Castrol Funny Car drivers to have won a race thus far this season, recorded a personal best time of 4.680 seconds last month at Atlanta, Ga.
The only driver to have gone quicker this year? Force, who drove his Castrol GTX Mustang to a time of 4.664 seconds at the season-opener in Pomona, Calif., and who is the only driver to have started more races this year from No. 1 than Hight (four).
"We probably have a car (that could set the record)," Hight said, "but we're not going in (to Joliet) thinking about that. It's about winning rounds and winning races and getting ourselves in position to race for the championship."
The points leader after winning the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals, Hight has worked his way back up to third place behind Force and leader Ron Capps after falling back to sixth during a frustrating three-race stretch during which he won not a single round of racing.
Despite his affection for Route 66 Raceway ("it's the smoothest track on the circuit") and the fact that he led the qualifiers at last year's CARQUEST Nationals, Hight is only 1-2 in competition, beaten in the second round last June by eventual series champion Gary Scelzi and in the first round last October by Capps.
"We lost to Scelzi and Capps here last year," acknowledged the former crewman, "and to win the championship, those are guys you have to beat when you have the chance. Maybe we'll get another shot at them this week."