ROBERT HIGHT POWERS HIS WAY TO HIS FIRST NHRA FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP IN THE AUTO CLUB FORD MUSTANG POMONA, Calif., November 14, 2009 -- In what seemed improbable only two months ago, Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang, ...
ROBERT HIGHT POWERS HIS WAY TO HIS FIRST NHRA FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP IN THE AUTO CLUB FORD MUSTANG
POMONA, Calif., November 14, 2009 -- In what seemed improbable only two months ago, Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang, clinched his first NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship today by qualifying third at the 45th Annual Auto Club NHRA Finals. Hight enters Sunday's elimination round with an insurmountable lead of 106 points over his teammate and second-place championship contender Ashley Force Hood.
"This is unbelievable," said Robert Hight, the former clutch specialist on John Force's championship team who became a Funny Car champion. "When they started telling me that I clinched it, and even though I had some time to think about it when we had the big lead leaving Las Vegas, I never really got emotional. Tonight I was in the car with the helmet on and it hit me and I couldn't hold it, but I still had to make a run out there and that was so tough to do. It is so emotional, so exciting and we have all worked so long for this, but what is really the coolest is that John Force took a chance on a guy from Northern California who had never driven anything but a Ford F-150 truck and he has given me this opportunity."
Hight's first championship is the 16th Funny Car title for John Force Racing and the 10th for John Force Racing with Ford Motor Company. This championship is the 25th professional title for Ford Motor Company in NHRA.
"Ford had given us financial backing, and that was major because it allowed us to chase the things that you need, but at the end of the day, it was all Ford's technology that really put us to where we needed to be," said John Force. "It was the wind tunnel time, the aero people and the Ford technicians that built us a streamlined car that could dominate for ten years.
"If you look at the last 20 years, there have only been four times we haven't won a championship and one of those times we were beat by our own driver, Tony [Pedregon], who left to start his own team. I really have to thank Ford Motor Company for its vision in where we could go and where we are going to go in the future. To help me with motor programs, to help me with chassis programs, to help me with aero programs was visionary. It wasn't just the funding they gave me, but the technicians and the technical support that has created a great partnership between Ford and John Force Racing."
"Everyone at Ford Motor Company all of our employees and retirees are just so proud of John Force Racing and really happy for Robert Hight," said Brian Wolfe, Ford Motor Company, Director of North America Motorsports. "He had such a tough and trying year at the beginning of the season and then making it into the 'Countdown to 1' and then once he got into the Countdown there was no looking back. It was just a great year for Robert and for Ford and we are proud of everything that those guys do for us over there."
The 2009 season has been a roller coaster of emotions for Hight. After entering the season as a prohibitive favorite to win the championship, Hight suffered through a frustrating season and was the last car to qualify for the 'Countdown to 1,' barely making the post-season in the final event.
When the 'Countdown' began at Charlotte, Hight and his crew chief Jimmy Prock were on top of their game. Three event wins and two No. 1 qualifier positions pushed Hight from 10th to the top of the standings. The seminal point for the 40-year-old Hight proved to be in the first round at Las Vegas, when he faced teammate Ashley Force Hood, who at the time was a close second in the championship. The showdown catapulted Hight to a commanding lead in the championship points, a lead he protected with a near perfect car at Pomona.
"As a driver you always believe in your team and you believe that they are going to turn it around and you work hard and believe that it is going to get done, but you don't ever dream that it is going to turn out like this," said Hight. "This is absolutely amazing what we have done in the last two months. We started the year with the same team that we had last year and I was so excited because nobody had a new job and everybody knew what they had to do. That is how John won a lot of championships, guys stuck around and they stayed together as a team for a lot of years. When we started struggling I believe that what got us through was that this is a group of good guys working together, never doubting in each other or Jimmy Prock or myself and we worked through the hard times and we got through it. If we can have the same team next year we are going to be even stronger."
Hight won three races in 2009, pushing his career total to 14. He wins his first championship after twice finishing second, and having never finished out of the top five in his five-year Funny Car career. In winning his first Funny Car title, Hight becomes the third driver to win a championship for John Force Racing (John Force, Tony Pedregon, Robert Hight).
"I just want everybody to enjoy it, especially Robert and his team," said Force, who has celebrated championships in 16 of the last 20 seasons. "I got everybody from my team together in a room this week and we talked about how we are all one team and how we all share in the success. I want to make sure Robert takes the time to enjoy this because it is a feeling you will only feel once in your life. Actually, what's bad about this is that you win a championship and two days later the banquet is over and you are getting ready for next year. When you win the next one, it's a completely different feeling than the first time. The first one is something special because it's something you have dreamed about your whole life."
Hight will have a busy week while celebrating his title. In addition to the annual NHRA banquet, the new champion will be flying to Miami, where Ford has asked him to be Grand Marshal of next weekend's Ford 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series finale at Homestead Miami Speedway, and to participate in other programs around Ford Championship Weekend.
"I can't wait for next year, " said Hight. "I can't wait to work with my team all winter and get ready for next year. I think my schedule is going to get a little busier than what I am used to and I am probably going to have to cut back on working on the car, but that is a good problem to have."
-credit: ford racing