Madison: Robert Hight preview

HIGHT HOPING FOR A REAL 'SHOOTOUT' AS POWERADE TOUR REACHES MIDPOINT Rookie Well-Positioned if Points Leaders Should Stumble MADISON, Ill. -- Points leaders John Force and Gary Scelzi are prone to characterize their battle for the 2005 NHRA...

Rookie Well-Positioned if Points Leaders Should Stumble

MADISON, Ill. -- Points leaders John Force and Gary Scelzi are prone to characterize their battle for the 2005 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship, which moves this week to Gateway International Raceway, as a "shootout."

However, in a real "shootout," Force and Scelzi wouldn't stand a chance against Robert "Top Gun" Hight.

A world class marksman, Hight has used the skills that made him a trapshooting champion to become the hottest driver in the series and the runaway leader in the race for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award that annually identifies the NHRA's Rookie-of-the-Year.

Those same skills, coupled with crew chief Jimmy Prock's mechanical wizardry, have made the 35-year-old Hight one of the favorites -- with Force and Scelzi -- to win this week's ninth annual Sears Craftsman Nationals.

In fact, Hight trails only those two drivers in the Funny Car point standings, a remarkable feat for someone who until he climbed into the cockpit of the Auto Club Ford last February never before had driven competitively in a vehicle of any kind.

Considering that lack of experience, there was a time when Hight would have been happy simply to qualify for all 23 races in the series as teammate Eric Medlen did last year when he became the first John Force Racing crew member to move successfully from one side of the cockpit to the other as driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford.

However, after winning in just his fourth race (last April at Houston, Texas), putting the blue-and-white Mustang in the No. 1 qualifying position four times in 11 races and soaring as high as second in points, Hight has re-assessed his position.

"At the start of the year," he said, "my main goal was to qualify for all 23 races, but my goals have changed a little bit now. Now I know I'm in a car capable not just of winning races, but of winning the championship. That puts a little more pressure on me, but, hopefully, I'm up for it."

Nevertheless, just to make sure he is clearly focused on the target, Hight made a little detour on his way from last week's event at Englishtown, N.J., stopping in Vandalia, Ohio, on Tuesday and Wednesday to sharpen his "shooter's eye" in the Ohio State Trapshooting Championships.

Vandalia not only is the site of the Ohio state championships, but also of the American Trapshooting Association's Grand American, the world's largest target shooting event, one in which Hight participated as recently as 2004.

"There are three different events (in trapshooting)," Hight said. "Singles is up close, 16 yards, and out of 100 or 200 (targets), to win you have to hit every single one of them. Handicap is based on your known ability, like in golf. They move you back further from the target (based on individual proficiency).

"I'm as far back as you can go at 27 yards. Finally, there's doubles where you have two targets coming out at once. You need to be shooting 98 or 99 (hitting both targets 98 out of 100 times) to win."

Hight's greatest shooting accomplishment was achieving the grand slam -- hitting 200 straight targets at 16 yards, 100 straight at 27 yards and 100 straight in doubles. It's something achieved by very few.

When he climbs back into the Auto Club Ford this weekend, Hight hopes to shoot his way even more prominently into the points race. Coming into the Sears Craftsman event, the midpoint in the 2005 season, he trails Scelzi by only 25 points and Force by 87 in a sport in which each round won earns the driver 20 points.

Hight gives full credit for his lofty position to Prock, the once reluctant Funny Car crew chief who made his reputation directing Cory McClenathan and later Joe Amato to 21 NHRA tour victories in the Top Fuel division. He now is considered one of the premier Funny Car crew chiefs, which is reflected in Hght's status.

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Did You Know? Robert was the clutch specialist on John Force's Castrol GTX Funny Car during five championship seasons (1995-1999) before becoming the manager of the JFR shop facility in Yorba Linda, Calif....Robert is married to Force's oldest daughter, Adria, the CFO of JFR, Inc., and he is the father of the 118-time tour winner's only grandchild, Autumn Danielle Hight.

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Cory McClenathan , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight