HIGHT HOPING TO CATCH LEADERS IN EARLY ROUNDS AT AAA FINALS Rookie-of-the-Year Contender Could Play Key Role POMONA, Calif. -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight is a virtual lock to win the Automobile Club of Southern California's 2005 Road to the ...
HIGHT HOPING TO CATCH LEADERS IN EARLY ROUNDS AT AAA FINALS
Rookie-of-the-Year Contender Could Play Key Role
POMONA, Calif. -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight is a virtual lock to win the Automobile Club of Southern California's 2005 Road to the Future award as the NHRA's Rookie-of- the-Year, but that doesn't mean he is without motivation this week as the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series speeds to a conclusion at Pomona Raceway.
The Funny Car points leader for five races in mid-season, Hight no longer can win the championship, but in Sunday's 41st Auto Club Finals, concluding event in the 23-race series, he and his Jimmy Prock-tuned Team Castrool/Auto Club Ford Mustang could help determine who does.
Quite frankly, that's his goal -- and motivation.
Specifically, he hopes to beat one or both of the drivers that currently sit atop the standings. If he can do so, it would open the door for John Force, his boss, teammate and father-in-law, to win an unlikely 14th title.
Entering the race, Force trails Gary Scelzi by 28 points and Ron Capps by 26. To claim the $400,000 champion's bonus, he must advance two rounds further than both of the Dodge drivers.
Hight hopes at least to give him that opportunity.
"We're not going to sandbag and try to line up against one of those guys in the first round," Hight said. "When you start playing games like that, they usually bite you. Plus, you might not even qualify. And, even if (the strategy) did work and you wound up against one of them (in round one), you wouldn't have lane choice and you wouldn't be racing from strength.
"So we're just going to do what we always do. We're going to try to qualify this Auto Club Mustang No. 1 and then see what happens."
It's a simple plan, but one with which Hight should be familiar. After all, he has led the Funny Car qualifying a category-best six times this season and secured both of his breakthrough tour victories after starting from the No. 1 position (Houston and Denver).
"(Helping Force win the championship) would be bigger to me than winning the Road to the Future," Hight said. "I don't mean that in a negative way because to be even considered for such an award is unbelievable when you look at all the good young drivers coming into the sport.
"But to be able to contribute to another championship for this race team and to be able to give John a little payback for taking a chance on me and taking a chance on Eric (Medlen, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford), that would be awesome."
Ironically, Hight and Medlen, who crewed together on Force's Castrol GTX Fords from 1997 through 2000, will be competing against one another for position this weekend.
Hight presently is fourth in the standings, nine points ahead of Medlen, a three-time winner this year and the top Funny Car rookie from last season.
"That's not even on the radar," Hight said. "Our goal is, one, to help John win the championship and, two, to close the season with a good, solid performance.
"We've lost in the first round the last three races and that's not the way you want to finish. I know, even in his championship seasons, John was always miserable (in the off season) when he didn't do well at the Finals," Hight said, "because that's the last thing you remember from the previous season."
Hight hopes to remember a championship -- even if it isn't his own.
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Did You Know? Robert is a past participant in the American Trapshooting Association's Grand National in Vandalia, Ohio, the world's largest target shoot. 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 is married to Force's oldest daughter, Adria, the CFO of JFR, Inc., and is the father of his only grandchild, Autumn Danielle Hight, who just celebrated her first birthday....Robert is one of four finalists (with Jack Beckman, Chip Ellis and Erica Enders) for the Auto Club's 2005 Road to the Future Award that identifies the Rookie-of-the-Year on the NHRA tour....at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona Raceway, Robert's debut event, he qualified No. 4 (after losing a quicker earlier run to a timing system malfunction) but lost in round one to Bob Gilbertson when his Mustang lost traction shortly after the launch....in addition to his driving duties, Robert has been playing a major role in build-up of new Brand Source-sponsored Super Comp dragsters for Force's two youngest daughters, Brittany, 19, and Courtney, 17.