HIGHT BEATS THE ODDS, MAKES SKOAL SHOWDOWN STARTING LINEUP Rookie Rides No. 1 Qualifying Run at Memphis into Select Field of Eight MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Defying incredible odds, rookie Robert "Top Gun" Hight muscled the Automobile Club of Southern...
HIGHT BEATS THE ODDS, MAKES SKOAL SHOWDOWN STARTING LINEUP
Rookie Rides No. 1 Qualifying Run at Memphis into Select Field of Eight
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Defying incredible odds, rookie Robert "Top Gun" Hight muscled the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang into the starting lineup for the 2005 Skoal Showdown Saturday and did so in the final session of the last qualifying event in which drivers could earn points.
It was the ultimate 36th birthday present for the first year driver, a member of John Force's crew when the drag racing icon won the Big Bud Shootout, forerunner to the Skoal Showdown, in 1996 and 2000. Hight, who is married to Force's oldest daughter, Adria, is the current NHRA POWERade points leader, the first rookie to sit atop the standings in 13 years.
Saturday, Hight did what he had to do by qualifying the Jimmy Prock-prepared Auto Club Ford on the "pole" for Sunday's 18th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park. It was the sixth Skoal No. 1 qualifying bonus of the year for the one-time trapshooting champion.
Nevertheless, it wasn't until Whit Bazemore qualified only tenth and Ron Capps seventh that Hight was able to move around them both and into the starting lineup for the Showdown, to be contested Labor Day weekend in conjunction with the 51st annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind.
Although he is driving the car that last year swept Indy, winning both the Showdown and the U.S. Nationals with veteran Gary Densham at the wheel, Hight's bid to make the select field was a longshot from the start because he missed the first six qualifying races (the last six events of 2004).
Then, when it appeared that he might have a real shot, he posted the worst qualifying effort of his career (No. 10) last week at Brainerd, Minn. That enabled Bazemore to pad his cushion and allowed Capps to move around Hight into ninth place with only the Memphis race remaining. "To be honest, I think we were trying too hard at Brainerd," Hight said. "This week, we just tried to do our best and focus on the Memphis race and not on the Skoal Showdown."
Hight became just the second driver in history to qualify for the Showdown in his rookie season. The only other able to do so was Del Worsham, who made the lineup in 1992.
Hight's Saturday heroics provided a huge windfall for John Force Racing, which now will start the Showdown with all three of its Fords in the field. If there is a downside, it is that one of the three will be gone after the first round. Force, who is the top qualifier for the event for the 15th time in 16 years, will send his Castrol GTX Start Up Mustang against Hight's Auto Club Ford in a key round one match-up. JEric Medlen, who will be making his first Skoal Showdown appearance as the driver of the third Ford, the Castrol SYNTEC Mustang, will have his choice of lanes in a first round meeting with Tommy Johnson Jr.
"I knew nobody would get us in the first session (because of the temperature and the sun on the track)," Hight said, "and going into the last session, it's a helpless feeling, because so much is left to chance. Honestly, I didn't think anybody was going to run better than 4.88. I didn't think we would get bumped (back), but the other two scenarios (that would keep the Auto Club Ford out of the Showdown field) were definitely possible -- Bazemore moving up to ninth or Capps moving up to third."
"You just sit back and wait. It's all you can do," Hight said. "You know, you're nervous, but I almost think it was a bigger deal, what we did to make the Skoal Showdown, than what it would be to actually win the thing because at the beginning of the year we never even though about it. There's no way a guy can go from six races without getting ANY points to get it. But then we got closer and closer."
"And just when we were starting to think that we might have a chance, we messed up at Brainerd and, really, we thought it was over. Even though nobody else had come close, you know Scelzi and that team, they're capable of it. Honestly, I thought it was a little too warm."