Memphis: Robert Hight preview

ALL HIGHT WANTS FOR HIS BIRTHDAY IS A MID-SOUTH NATIONALS VICTORY Points Leader Hoping to Rebound from First Round Losses MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Points leader Robert "Top Gun" Hight, driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford ...

Points Leader Hoping to Rebound from First Round Losses

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Points leader Robert "Top Gun" Hight, driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, tries to follow the example of Castrol teammates John Force and Eric Medlen this week when the NHRA POWERade tour moves to Memphis Motorsports Park.

Force drove his 7,000 horsepower Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford into the winners' circle three months ago at Atlanta, Ga., thereby winning the first tour event contested following his 56th birthday.

Medlen, the second year driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Mustang, followed suit last week when he won for the second straight year at Brainerd, Minn., only a day after celebrating his 32nd birthday.

     Now, to join the "win-on-your-birthday" sweepstakes, Hight needs a victory in this
week's 18th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals.  He turns 36 on Saturday.

A birthday victory would be particularly significant in that the first year driver has struggled the last two races, losing in the first round at Sonoma, Calif., and again last week at Brainerd. As a result, he's seen his advantage reduced from 84 to 14 points by Gary Scelzi. It's only eight more points back to Force, the reigning and 13-time series champion.

"(A win) would be a great birthday present," Hight said, "but really, we just need to get back to doing what we were doing and we should be okay. John has told me that everybody goes through peaks and valleys, but that doesn't make it any more fun."

Indeed, Hight defied convention through the season's first 14 races.

A former crewman on Force's Funny Car, he never had driven competitively in any car, at any level, before this season. Nevertheless, he won in just his fourth start in the Jimmy Prock-prepared Auto Club Ford, winning at Houston, Texas, and losing to Force by just .002 of a second in the final round at Atlanta.

When he won for the second time (at Denver, Colo.), he moved around Force and into the points lead, becoming the first rookie in 13 years to sit atop the Funny Car driver standings. Now he's trying to become the first rookie to win a championship since Scelzi claimed the Top Fuel title in 1997.

Not only is he the POWERade points leader, he is a virtual lock to win the Auto Club's 2005 Road to the Future award which identifies the NHRA's top rookie.

And rightfully so. Not only has he reached the final round four times, he has started from the No. 1 qualifying position in five races and has put up some remarkable numbers including quarter mile times of 4.723 (Phoenix), 4.726 (Joliet, Ill.) and 4.729 (Topeka, Kan.) and a best speed of 329.99 miles per hour (Phoenix).

Nevertheless, his most impressive single run may have been the 4.796 second, 322.58 mph effort he delivered at mile-high Denver, Colo., where he set Bandimere Speedway track records while becoming the first Funny Car driver to bust the 4.80 and 320 mph barriers at altitude.

Some of Hight's success can be traced to the powers of concentration he developed as a champion trapshooter. More can be attributed to the year he spent as the official test driver for John Force Racing.

However, Hight is the first to acknowledge Prock's contribution.

"Jimmy's unbelievable," he said. "He's really had a handle on the tune-up. We've had a good car when the weather's cool and we've had a good car when it's hot. We've hit a couple of bumps, but we'll fix it. I'm just lucky to have the chance to drive a car like this. I have to pinch myself every day."

* * * *

Did You Know? The man Robert replaced in the cockpit of the Auto Club Ford, veteran Gary Densham, earned his first career win at Memphis in 2001....Robert has qualified for the American Trapshooting Association's Grand National in Vandalia, Ohio. The world's largest target shoot, on several occasions. 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 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 , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight