HIGHT CAN WRITE MORE HISTORY IN O'REILLY MID-SOUTH NATIONALS Auto Club Driver Would Settle for a Birthday Victory at MMP MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Robert Hight can write some more history this week when he sends the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of ...
HIGHT CAN WRITE MORE HISTORY IN O'REILLY MID-SOUTH NATIONALS
Auto Club Driver Would Settle for a Birthday Victory at MMP
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Robert Hight can write some more history this week when he sends the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang into qualifying for Sunday's 19th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park.
In just his second season behind the wheel of one of the world's most powerful race cars, Hight is on track to become the first driver in 17 years to knock John Force from the top of the qualifying order for the prestigious and lucrative Skoal Showdown Funny Car bonus race.
If the 2005 NHRA Rookie of the Year can qualify at least 10th at MMP, he'll lock up the No. 1 starting position for the eight-car bonus race to be run in conjunction with the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind.
Since he's only qualified outside the quick eight two times in his 39-race professional career, since he's started twice as many races from No. 1 the last two years as any other driver and since he started No. 1 at last year's Mid-South Nationals, his chances of ending his father-in-law's 16-year reign as the No. 1 seed seem pretty good.
The thing is, Hight isn't thinking about the Showdown. He's not even thinking about the $100,000 check earmarked for the winner. Not yet, anyway.
What he is thinking about is the fact that it's been seven races since he last drove one of the sport's dominant race cars into the semifinals. In the last six events in the NHRA POWERade Series, Hight has qualified No. 1 three times, No. 2, No. 4 and No. 7 and has won just four total racing rounds.
"There's not one thing you can put your finger on," said the man who was the clutch specialist on Force's Castrol GTX Funny Car when it won back-to-back races at Memphis in 1996 and 1997.
"We've found a lot of ways to lose. It's frustrating, especially when you know you've got a fast car."
Indeed, Hight's Auto Club Ford has been exceedingly fast. The former trapshooting champion has started six races this season from No. 1 but none has resulted in a victory, his only win coming in the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., in which he started 12th.
Moreover, his struggles in the last six races have cost him two positions in the points and put his Top 5 standing in jeopardy. He presently leads No. 6 Tommy Johnson Jr. by just eight points and No. 7 Scelzi by 11.
For Hight, who is normally so upbeat, it's been a very difficult time.
Nevertheless, he believes he and crew chief Jimmy Prock can still get their race car back into the title chase.
"It's not like we haven't run well in the heat, because we have," Hight said. "Consistency is the thing. We haven't been able to put three and four good runs together since Pomona and it doesn't seem ever to be the same problem. When you're not winning rounds, it's hard to say you're running real good but we are.
"Drag racing can be a very humbling sport. That's all I can say. We'll turn it around. I know we'll have a car this week that can win. I won't say it will win, but it'll be a car that CAN win and, as a driver, that's all you can ask for."
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Notable: On Sunday, Robert Hight hopes to celebrate his 37th birthday by putting the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang in the winners' circle at Memphis Motorsports Park, the track on which his predecessor, Gary Densham, won his first career event (2001).