HIGHT BACK IN FAST FORM WITH NEW FORD MUSTANG Auto Club Driver Hopes To Solidify Countdown Position SONOMA, Calif. -- Having exorcized the demons that for five races transformed his Auto Club Ford Mustang into an ill-handling shell of its...
HIGHT BACK IN FAST FORM
WITH NEW FORD MUSTANG
Auto Club Driver Hopes To Solidify Countdown Position
SONOMA, Calif. -- Having exorcized the demons that for five races transformed his Auto Club Ford Mustang into an ill-handling shell of its former self, Robert "Top Gun" Hight tries this week to solidify his hold on one of the eight starting positions in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship.
The 37-year-old can accomplish that goal with a strong showing in the 20th annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals contested on an Infineon Raceway quarter mile that is the closest thing Hight has to a home track.
While growing up in Alturas, a small northern California community almost equidistant from the Nevada and Oregon borders, Hight developed an interest in all things mechanical and, after attending college in Sacramento, opted to pursue a career as a race car mechanic.
Although it was a decision not initially embraced by his family, it proved a fortuitous one when, after spending a short apprenticeship working on Top Fuel dragsters driven by Del Worsham and Tommy Johnson Jr., he was hired to handle the clutch work on John Force's all-conquering Castrol GTX Funny Car.
In his first Funny Car race, Hight celebrated with Force in the winners' circle at the 1995 Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Denver, Colo. In his five seasons as a full-time crewman, Force never lost the championship.
Significantly, he also met and married Force's oldest daughter, Adria, and, when his father-in-law embarked on his Next Generation initiative, he was afforded the chance of a lifetime when, in 2005, as a pure rookie with absolutely no previous driving experience, he was handed the reins of the Jimmy Prock-prepared Auto Club Ford.
He responded by earning the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA's 2005 Rookie-of-the-Year and followed up with a legitimate bid for the 2006 championship that ended in a second place finish behind Force.
Now, he's hoping to close the deal with a new chassis beneath him and a growing confidence around him.
After reaching the final round in four of his first five 2007 starts and posting the two quickest times in Funny Car history at 4.644 seconds (Pomona, Calif.) and 4.634 seconds (Phoenix, Ariz.), Hight found his title bid briefly sidetracked followed an engine explosion, fire and crash at Topeka, Kan., that forced him into a backup car.
"It wasn't very driver-friendly," Hight said of the chassis that was scrapped before last week's race at Seattle, Wash. "It's one that had been repaired from being twisted. It never hit anything, it just twisted after a few runs and, really, it was a mess. It's never been right."
As a result, the team began assembling a newly-delivered chassis immediately after losing in the second round of the July 15th race at Denver, Colo.
"We were concerned because there always are new car bugs," Hight said, "but my guys did a great job. It drove like the old car we crashed a Topeka. I was really pleased with how it steered and I'm really excited now about Sonoma."
Already the Infineon track record holder at 4.738 seconds, Hight believes his hybrid Mustang is capable of going even quicker this week in pursuit of a FRAM/Autolite Funny Car championship won last year by the late Eric Medlen, Hight's friend and teammate, who succumbed last March to injuries suffered in a testing accident at Gainesville, Fla.
The only Funny Car driver to have led the POWERade point standings each of the last three seasons, Hight came within a broken supercharger drive belt or two of beating Force last year and this year has been the only driver consistently able to handle points leader Ron Capps.
In fact, the former California trapshooting champion has beaten Capps in all three meetings this year and in five straight matches dating back to last season.