Hight Gets Baptism of Fire at Winternationals Rookie Takes Over Controls of Automobile Club Ford Mustang POMONA, Calif. -- Robert Hight, who for six seasons was the clutch specialist on John Force's championship-winning Castrol GTX Funny...
Hight Gets Baptism of Fire at Winternationals
Rookie Takes Over Controls of Automobile Club Ford Mustang
POMONA, Calif. -- Robert Hight, who for six seasons was the clutch specialist on John Force's championship-winning Castrol GTX Funny Cars, gets his first view of Pomona Raceway from inside the cockpit this week when he debuts in the 45th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals as the new driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang.
The 35-year-old resident of Anaheim Hills, Calif., who'll be the first Funny Car driver down the track on Thursday, thus becomes another key player in an acknowledged "changing of the guard" at John Force Racing, Inc., designed to insure the future of a team that has dominated for more than a decade.
While Force, 55, will continue to drive the lead Mustang for at least the next six seasons, he is laying the groundwork for his team's continued success by giving young drivers and mechanics an opportunity to develop in a championship environment.
Last year, he put rookie Eric Medlen, also a former crew member, behind the wheel of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford and the 31-year-old responded by winning an NHRA POWERade tour event at Brainerd, Minn., finishing fifth in the Funny Car driver standings and second in balloting for the Auto Club's Road to the Future award which annually identifies the top rookie on the tour.
Hight is expected to battle for that same honor this year and, in fact, already has received a vote of confidence from one of the two drivers who chased Force to the 2004 title: three-time former NHRA Top Fuel Champion Gary Scelzi.
"Robert Hight will be 'Rookie of the Year,'" Scelzi told nhra.com without a hint of. hesitation. "He's a marksman and the concentration he uses in that sport is really helping him in the car. I've seen him test and he'll be a big player."
Hight, who was the team's test driver all last season (driving on Mondays after weekend events), was one of the stars of last month's pre-season test sessions. In fact, he became just the fifth driver in Funny Car history to break the 330 mile per hour barrier (330.55 mph), the first to do so at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Nevertheless, the native of Alturas, Calif., knows things will be different this week.
"When there's somebody else in the other lane, that's a whole new ball game," he said. "My main thing is to have a game plan. I'm going to go through a checklist in my mind of what I'm going to do next because it doesn't come natural to me yet. I haven't made enough runs to where I can just to do it in my sleep.
"Last year when I got to test, we were on a known surface because we had raced there all weekend. Basically, we'd go out there and it would go right down the track."
That wasn't the scenario in this year's pre-season tests.
"It smoked the tires, which was something new for me," Hight said. "When it does that, you have to catch it (and) a couple times in Vegas I didn't catch it on time.
"Well, the next run you go up there thinking about that and it messes you up. John finally told me, 'don't worry about anything other than driving that race car. Don't go up there with the idea that it's going to smoke the tires or it's going to shake. Just go up there and drive the thing right down the middle of the race track and, if something happens, just react to it.' That helped me a lot."
What also has helped is the trapshooting background to which Scelzi alluded.
He believes the concentration skills and coordination that benefitted him as a shooter will do the same thing for him in the cockpit of a 7,000 horsepower Funny Car.
"Basically, in drag racing, you only have do something for a total of maybe two minutes," Hight said. "Once you start the car until you make your run, it's about two minutes. Holding focus for two minutes should be way easier than holding focus for two hours (as you must do in target shooting).
"If you just miss one time out of 200 targets in two hours, it's over. Your mind can't wander for even a second. So I think that's going to help me, too."