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HIGHT IN FINAL TUNE-UP FOR NHRA'S COUNTDOWN Auto Club Driver Among Favorites in Toyo Tires Nationals READING, Pa. -- Alert the Centers for Disease Control. An outbreak of acrophobium has been reported at Maple Grove Raceway, site of this...

HIGHT IN FINAL TUNE-UP FOR NHRA'S COUNTDOWN
Auto Club Driver Among Favorites in Toyo Tires Nationals

READING, Pa. -- Alert the Centers for Disease Control. An outbreak of acrophobium has been reported at Maple Grove Raceway, site of this week's 23rd annual Toyo Tires Nationals, final event in which drivers can earn points toward the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship.

     For the uninitiated, acrophobium is the lesser-known, singular version of acrophobia.
Acrophobia: the fear of heights.  Acrophobium: the fear of Hight.

In this case, it specifically is the fear of Robert "Top Gun" Hight, driver of the baddest hot rod Ford on this or any other planet: the Jimmy Prock-tuned, 8,000 horsepower, 330 mile-an-hour Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang.

Married to drag racing icon John Force's oldest daughter, Adria, and the father of the 14-time champ's only grandchild, Hight hopes to celebrate his 38th birthday a day early this Sunday by taking care of some business unresolved last year when he was upset by journeyman Phil Burkart Jr. in the final round.

Owner of the two quickest quarter miles in Funny Car drag racing history (4.643 seconds at Pomona, Calif., and 4.633 seconds at Phoenix, Ariz.), the unassuming Hight is considered (1) the man most likely to grab the $4,000 Skoal Showdown bonus as this week's top qualifier, and (2) the biggest threat to his father-in-law's bid for a third consecutive tour victory.

After all, following a mid-season swoon precipitated by a spectacular engine fire and crash at Topeka, Kan., Hight has begun to return to championship form, reaching the semifinals at each of the last two events in the NHRA POWERade Series while continuing to set a torrid performance pace.

The No. 1 qualifier in one third of the races he's run as a pro (21 of 61), the former crewman was the quickest in the first two rounds last week at Brainerd, Minn., putting up the best quarter mile mark of the entire event (4.756 seconds) before losing a narrow semifinal decision to Force, 4.777-4.813.

Hight's resurgence, like Force's, can be traced, at least in part, to a new chassis.

     "The crash (at Topeka) ruined our best car," Hight said, "and the car that was our
back-up never was quite right.  It just wasn't very driver-friendly.

"If you put the tape on it, it measured out identical to the other car, but it wasn't, really. It had been repaired from being twisted. It never hit anything, it just twisted after a few runs and, really, it was a mess.

"The new car, the one we ran for the first time at Seattle (on July 22nd), drives like a Lincoln. I've really been pleased with how it steers. As a driver, you have to have a certain level of comfort in the car, especially now that we have all the extra safety equipment on it, and I just didn't have it until we got this car."

Although he's won seven times in just two-and-a-half seasons, Hight hasn't visited the winners' circle in more than three months.

"Some of it was the old car and some of it was that Jimmy has been testing some things, trying to make sure we have the best car possible for the Countdown," Hight said. "I'm really excited about (the Countdown). I wish we had been able to get Ashley (sister-in-law Ashley Force) in the Countdown, but it just didn't happen. So that leaves it up to me and John and I think we're both peaking at just about the right time."

Indeed, Hight is the defending champion in two of the first three races in the Countdown the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Aug. 29-Sept. 3, at Indianapolis, Ind., and the O'Reilly Fall Nationals, Sept. 20-23, at Dallas, Texas. That means there's no reason to expect containment any time soon.

If anything, expect fear of Hight to spread as the Countdown continues.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Ashley Force , Phil Burkart , Robert Hight