HIGHT'S LATE SEASON CHARGE NO LONGER JUST A NOVELTY Auto Club Driver Within 35 of Funny Car Points Lead RICHMOND, Va.-- After 20 races, John Force and Ron Capps are separated by a single point in their battle for the $400,000 NHRA POWERade ...
HIGHT'S LATE SEASON CHARGE
NO LONGER JUST A NOVELTY
Auto Club Driver Within 35 of Funny Car Points Lead
RICHMOND, Va.-- After 20 races, John Force and Ron Capps are separated by a single point in their battle for the $400,000 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.
Nevertheless, when the NHRA POWERade tour returns this week to Virginia Motorsports Park for the inaugural Torco Race Fuels Nationals, both front-runners will be looking back over their shoulders.
What they'll be looking for is a 330 mile-an-hour blur of red, white and blue, the colors of the hottest car on the tour, the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang driven by 2005 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year Robert "Top Gun" Hight.
Although he was upset in the final round last week at Reading, Pa., Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock have shaken off the effects of a mid-season malaise to emerge as the title contenders they expected to be when they won the season-opener last February in Pomona, Calif.
What followed that opening win was six months of unrealized potential. Broken supercharger driver belts, clutch malfunctions, driver and crew chief errors and just bad racing luck all combined to keep the Auto Club Mustang out of the winners' circle
However, after failing to advance past the second round in six consecutive races from June through mid-August, Hight has gone to the semifinals or beyond in each of the last four tour events, winning the biggest race in the series, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, as well as the O'Reilly Fall Nationals at Dallas.
As a result, after being 229 points off the lead after a first round loss at Brainerd, Minn., on Aug. 20, the 37-year-old Californian now is just 35 points behind Force. That's roughly the equivalent of two racing rounds.
Over the last four races, the former trapshooting champion has made up 195 points on Capps, 146 on Force. That performance has turned the category upside down and transformed what all season long has been a two-horse race into a virtual copy of last year's three-way duel that wasn't decided until the second round of the final race.
"We've got a car that can win this thing," Hight said. "(Last week's final round loss to Phil Burkart Jr.) was disappointing because our car ran so well all day. But the track changed a little and it just wouldn't hold (the 8,000 horsepower generated by the 500 cubic inch engine). It blew the tires off (lost traction) and I just couldn't get it calmed down. But that's the first time it hasn't gone down the track since Brainerd."
Indeed, Hight had made 14 consecutive full-power runs in competition before the Reading final.
Even before its stretch run, the Auto Club Ford was THE most feared car in the category, starting a category-best eight times from the No. 1 position. The rap was that it could not sustain its qualifying performance in competition.
The suggestion that his car was all show and no go ate at Hight throughout the summer.
"I think people thought that we could only run quick on Friday night (in the most favorable track and weather conditions)," Hight said, "but that just wasn't true. We had a car that could run in the cool on Friday and in the heat on Sunday.
"The problem was that the class has gotten so competitive that to win you have to make four perfect' runs (during eliminations) and we weren't doing that. We just kept working and trying to get better and at Indy, we made four perfect runs, just like we did at Pomona (in the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals).
"Now we have momentum and we control our own destiny," Hight said. "That's all we could ask for."