SEATTLE, Wash. -- When you first meet Robert Hight, you don't think 330 mile-an-hour race car driver. Quiet, courteous, studious. Those are the adjectives most frequently used to describe the 36-year-old California native. But, make no mistake,...
SEATTLE, Wash. -- When you first meet Robert Hight, you don't think 330 mile-an-hour race car driver. Quiet, courteous, studious. Those are the adjectives most frequently used to describe the 36-year-old California native.
But, make no mistake, when he climbs behind the wheel of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, Hight is transformed from mild-mannered father and husband to animated, fiery-eyed Funny Car driver.
It's a metamorphosis that will take place again this weekend when the 2005 NHRA Rookie of the Year goes after a championship that just slipped from his grasp a year ago when he lost to teammate Eric Medlen by .046 of a second (4.887 to 4.933 seconds) in the final round of the Schuck's Auto Parts Nationals at Seattle Raceways, Inc.
Winner of the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Hight has been shut out since. Nevertheless, he has remained solidly in contention for the championship behind father-in-law John Force, whom he trails by 186 points, and pacesetting Ron Capps, to whom he is 212 points down.
"I don't think (the championship chase) is over at all," Hight said. "Ron Capps and John kind of separated themselves from the pack, but there are so many good race cars out there. If someone can string together a couple of wins, hopefully us, it'll change everything."
Although Seattle Raceways, Inc., has undergone major repair work since last year's race to erase the obvious dip in the left lane, High still considers it one of the most challenging tracks on the circuit.
"Because of the dip, the right lane has been the better lane," he said, "but it's tricky. The groove moves inside real fast. If you follow it, it's fine, but if you don't, it's over with."
The groove at Seattle, Hight said, is very narrow.
"Usually, at every track, the groove is real narrow on the first (qualifying) run. At most tracks, as more cars run, the groove gets a little wider. But not at Seattle. You just don't have much margin for error."
Although he's won three races in his first season-and-a-half, Hight insists that he's little more than a rookie.
"I'm in a great race car with a great team," he said. "That makes all the difference in the world for a beginner like myself to have those resources. I'm still learning."
That could be bad news for the competition.
Indeed, Hight never before had raced competitively in any vehicle before he was tabbed by Force to take over the Auto Club Ford from veteran Gary Densham. It took him just four races to reach the winners' circle under the direction of crew chief Jimmy Prock and just half a season to move into the points lead.
Now, the former trapshooting champion, Force's son-in-law, is preparing himself for a possible stretch run to the championship.