Phoenix: Robert Hight preview

FC CHAMPION HIGHT WANTS FIRST 2010 WIN IN PHOENIX PHOENIX --- Robert Hight received the last elements recognizing him as 2009 Full Throttle Funny Car champion on Sunday morning of the 50th Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals as NHRA President...


PHOENIX --- Robert Hight received the last elements recognizing him as 2009 Full Throttle Funny Car champion on Sunday morning of the 50th Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals as NHRA President Tom Compton presented him with his champion's ring and jacket during the opening ceremonies. Unfortunately for Hight, the events no. 1 qualifier, that was the highlight of his day.

A surprising first round loss to no. 16 qualifier Cruz Pedregon had Hight moving into a supporting role at his first race as reigning champion. Immediately after Hight launched his Auto Club Ford Mustang he was cruising down the left lane and at mid-track his Mustang took an unceremonious right darting him across the centerline resulting in an immediate DQ.

"(Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) is still baffled that we smoked the tires. Even after looking at the data. The tires weren't hot. I had it perfectly lined up in the center of the groove. I knew I left on it- the Christmas tree. I saw the amber. It felt awesome. I pedaled it, got back on it and it hooked. When it does that usually it goes. I stayed in it and then all of a sudden it turned sideways so I lifted," said Hight.

"When it does that the tires really start spinning. They slow down and then they really speed up and it shoots you. Unfortunately it shot me across the center line and I couldn't bring it back. It wasn't going to run 4.30 anyway after pedaling it out that far. It looked funny especially when Ashley goes out and runs 4.12 right behind us. It is just one of those deals and we'll move on. We are still learning this clutch package. It is not like last year when we were struggling to figure it out. We just have to fine tune this Mustang to get it to react the way we need it to. We'll get it."

Both of his teammates -- Ashley Force Hood and John Force - advanced to the second round and Hight's team immediately began chipping in for a full day of support. Hight watched from the sidelines as team leader and mentor John Force ruled the day winning for the 127th time in his career.

It was a special moment for Hight. As Force was beginning his celebration in the winner's circle he was calling out for Hight to join him and the Castrol GTX High Mileage team. Force left the protective confines of the awards presentation area in front of the suite tower at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona to wade into the crowd of fans that were surrounding Hight. Force embraced Hight and the two champions shared an emotional moment before a cheering crowd pushing them back into the awards area. All day Hight had been receiving almost a hero's welcome from the thousands of fans at the Winternationals.

It was a fitting end to the first event of the season for Hight, one that saw him capture the no. 1 qualifying position for the 33rd time in his career, receive his first championship ring and then support the man that made it all possible.

"I wasn't around the fans all winter. We did a few shows like the LA Auto Show and our Holiday Car Show. When you get back to the race track and everywhere you go everybody is calling for you. They don't call me Robert anymore they are saying "Hey champ!" and that is cool. I am looking forward to hearing that at 22 more events this season," said a proud Hight.

Heading into Firebird International Raceway Hight will hope to build on the performance momentum he developed during testing in late January. Over the course of nearly a week of testing Hight recorded times solid times including a blistering 4.05 second run with his new 2010 Mustang body.

"(Firebird) is very tricky. It was perfect timing for that run because it was the first run with the 2010 Mustang body. I knew it was a good run. It felt good the whole way. It was pretty awesome. It was cool to hear the excitement of the guys on the radio. It has been a while since we have had some excitement over the radio," said Hight. "(Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) says if you hit it right could run 4.03 out here. Hitting it right is the trick. This track will produce huge ETs but you have to hit it right. Every little thing counts. After that run the engine ran fine and the clutch came together nice. "

Getting back into race mode less than three days after a disappointing first event is a welcome situation for Hight. The 50th annual NHRA Winternationals was a whirlwind for Hight.

"Going to Phoenix next weekend is huge for me. I don't have to think about this (his first round loss) for a week. I can get right back to work. We'll get that work done and get ready to head to Phoenix and start over again. I am really looking forward to Phoenix. With this race being the 50th anniversary of the Winternationals it has been huge. It has been a crazy, crazy weekend. I'm back at my home track after winning the championship. I got my ring today and my champion's jacket. There were just lots of things going on. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I am not complaining. It will be nice to get to a more normal race weekend. It is good to be back with the fans and all the sponsors. I have missed my team," said Hight from his trailer after the race in Pomona.

-source: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Ashley Force , Robert Hight