HIGHT NOT QUITE READY TO CONCEDE BATTLE FOR POWERADE CHAMPIONSHIP Auto Club Driver Focused on ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- In the nation's gambling capitol, the odds on rookie Robert "Top Gun" Hight winning the $400,000...
HIGHT NOT QUITE READY TO CONCEDE BATTLE FOR POWERADE CHAMPIONSHIP
Auto Club Driver Focused on ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- In the nation's gambling capitol, the odds on rookie Robert "Top Gun" Hight winning the $400,000 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship have soared in advance of this week's fifth annual ACDelco Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Hight, who just six weeks ago sat atop the Funny Car standings at the wheel of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, has lost ground in the four most recent races to three more experienced drivers.
The upshot is that with only two races remaining he likely won't become the first rookie in eight years to win an NHRA championship.
Although he hasn't mathematically been eliminated from the title chase, the former clutch technician has fallen 103 points behind pacesetting John Force, his boss, teammate and father-in-law.
Nevertheless, he's not quite ready to concede.
"We have a car that can win the last two races," Hight said, "so that's our goal -- to go out and do what we can to win here and at Pomona (Calif., in the season-ending Auto Club Finals). Everything else is out of our hands."
Despite two consecutive first round losses, Hight still is considered by the competition to be armed and dangerous.
A two-time winner this season and the No. 1 qualifier a category-high six times, the former Force crewman is aware that his title bid is a long shot.
"We would have to win this week and the win the (Auto Club) Finals," he said, "and John and (Gary) Scelzi and (Ron) Capps would have to go out early. That's probably not going to happen but, if it doesn't, we can still play a big part. If we can beat those guys and help John, that'd be awesome."
Hight's development into a legitimate title contender has been one of the feel good stories of the 2005 season.
The father of Force's only grandchild, the northern California native never had driven competitively, not in drag racing, not in oval racing and not in road racing before he climbed aboard the blue-and-white, Jimmy Prock-prepared Auto Club Mustang nine months ago.
Identified even before the season started as a title contender by rival Gary Scelzi, Hight wasted no time validating that opinion.
He claimed the first of his Skoal No. 1 qualifying bonuses in only his third start (at Gainesville, Fla.). It took just one more race to get him into the winners' circle (at Houston).
He has remained at or near the top of the standings ever since, leading the pack for five races after winning at Denver in July.
His success has been no fluke, coming as it has in the most competitive season in Funny Car drag racing history.
Eleven times, Hight posted the quickest time in the first round. Ironically, it was losses in the first round at the last two races that proved his undoing, the most painful a .005 of a second loss to Ron Capps in the first round at Joliet, lll., on Oct. 2.
"Everybody loses some of those (close) races," Hight said. "The truth is we had our chances, just like everyone else, but the season has been more than I could have imagined. When we started out, they asked me about my goals and I think I said that if we could qualify for all 23 events, I would consider it a success.
"I've just been lucky," he continued. "I was lucky that Eric (teammate Eric Medlen, second year driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford) did so well last year because that opened the door for me. I was lucky that John was there to give me a chance and I was lucky that I wound up with a veteran team and with a crew chief like Jimmy Prock."
* * * *
Did You Know? Robert is a past participant in the American Trapshooting Association's Grand National in Vandalia, Ohio, the world's largest target shoot. He once achieved a shooting grand slam by hitting 400 consecutive targets -- 200 at the standard distance (16 yards), 100 at the maximum handicap distance (27 yards) and 100 doubles (two targets at once....Robert is married to Force's oldest daughter, Adria, the CFO of JFR, Inc., and is the father of his only grandchild, one-year-old Autumn Danielle Hight....Robert is one of four finalists (with Jack Beckman, Chip Ellis and Erica Enders) for the Auto Club's 2005 Road to the Future Award that identifies the Rookie-of-the-Year on the NHRA tour. In a recent on-line poll conducted by nhra.com, he was the choice of 72 per cent of the more than 6,200 who responded to the question "who will win the 2005 Road to the Future Award?"