Seattle: Robert Hight preview

HIGHT TRIES TO MAINTAIN MOMENTUM AS TOUR MOVES TO PACIFIC RACEWAYS Auto Club Ford Driver First Rookie in 16 Years to Lead Points SEATTLE, Wash. Fresh off an overpowering performance last week at Denver, Colo., where he drove the...

Auto Club Ford Driver First Rookie in 16 Years to Lead Points

SEATTLE, Wash. Fresh off an overpowering performance last week at Denver, Colo., where he drove the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to its second victory of the season, Robert "Top Gun" Hight rolls into Pacific Raceways this week as the first Funny Car rookie in 16 years to lead the NHRA POWERade point standings.

Easily the hottest driver on the circuit, Hight will share the Funny Car favorite's role with his father-in-law, two-time defending champion John Force, when eliminations begin Sunday in the18th annual CARQUEST Northwest Nationals.

Not since Funny Car driver K.C. Spurlock won the 1990 season-opener at Pomona, Calif., has a rookie been atop the standings. But while Spurlock wasn't considered a serious threat to win the championship, Hight definitely is.

In fact, 13 races into the season, he has the attention of everyone else in the division including Force, whom he passed in points last week by qualifying No. 1, setting Bandimere Speedway track records for quarter mile time and speed and posting the quickest time in all four rounds of racing.

"You can't do much more than that," Force said. "I had people question me about putting Robert in the Auto Club Mustang because he hadn't driven a race car before. But he was a crewman on my car for six years, so I knew he knew our system. I knew he was loyal, which was big to me, and I knew his shooting (Hight is world class marksman who once turned down an invitation to try out for the U.S. Olympic team) would help him. I never expected this, though."

Married to Force's oldest daughter, Adria, and the father of the 13-time champion's only grandchild, nine month-old Autumn Danielle, Hight was the clutch specialist on Force's Castrol GTX Ford before becoming Facility Manager at the John Force Racing, Inc., shop in Yorba Linda, Calif.

Last year, in addition to his other duties, the soft-spoken 35-year-old served as the team's official test driver, making more than 40 quarter mile sprints in Force's car and the Auto Club Ford, which was competently driven the last four years by veteran Gary Densham.

Now, with five No. 1 qualifying bonuses (two more than any other Funny Car driver), two wins and one runner-up, Hight already has a virtual lock on the Auto Club's Road to the Future award which identifies the Rookie-of-the-Year.

However, the former trapshooting champion apparently has his sights on bigger game.

"We've got a car that can win the championship," he said. "The only weak link is me.

"I'm starting to get a little more confident, but I've got a lot to learn. Whatever success I've had so far, I owe to John, Jimmy (crew chief Jimmy Prock) and this crew.

     "Right now, our car is awesome," Hight said.  "Jimmy really has a handle on
everything.  We can run good in the heat; we can run good in the cool, good at sea
level and, like last week, good even on a mountain.  I'm just trying not to mess it up."

Nevertheless, success has forced Hight to re-evaluate his position.

"When I started out, my first my goal was just to qualify for all the races," Hight said, "but then you win a round and you want to win another round. Your expectations are raised every time you have success."

As for the championship chase, Hight is trying to remain objective.

     "It's great (to be in the lead), but we're not thinking championship, I can promise you
that," he said after the Denver victory.  "There's too much racing left to do and too many
good cars right behind us.  Everything still isn't just natural for me.  I'm still learning."

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Did You Know? Robert was a California state trapshooting champion at 15 and last year was a California representative to the American Trapshooting Association's Grand American Championships at Vandalia, Ohio, the world's largest target shoot....Robert's biggest accomplishment as a shooter was achieving the Grand Slam perfect scores from the standard distance (16 yards), from the maximum handicap distance (27 yards) and in doubles (two targets per pull). In one setting, he hit 200 of 200 targets from 16 yards, 100 of 100 in the other disciplines....Robert is hoping to help the Auto Club team reverse its fortunes at Pacific Raceways, a track on which it failed to win a single round of racing the last four years....a John Force Racing driver has won the NHRA Funny Car title each of the last 12 seasons. Robert is hoping to be the one to extend that to 13.

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Densham , Robert Hight