Sonoma: Robert Hight preview

HIGHT HOPING FOR A 'SHOOTOUT' AS NHRA TOUR MOVES TO INFINEON Rookie Leads POWERade Points Over Force, Scelzi SONOMA, Calif. -- "Top Gun." "Rocket Robert." "The Son-in-Law." Call him what you will, there's no doubt that rookie Robert...

Rookie Leads POWERade Points Over Force, Scelzi

SONOMA, Calif. -- "Top Gun." "Rocket Robert." "The Son-in-Law." Call him what you will, there's no doubt that rookie Robert Hight is soaring as the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series moves this week to Infineon Raceway.

The soft-spoken 35-year-old, married to John Force's oldest daughter, Adria, and father to the 13-time champion's only grandchild, is showing signs that he has more on his mind than simply winning the Automobile Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award that identifies the tour's top rookie.

In fact, when Hight sends the Auto Club Ford to the starting line for Friday qualifying in the 18th annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals, he'll do so as the first rookie to lead the Funny Car points in 16 years.

Not only does the first year pro lead the 2005 qualifying statistics, starting from the No. 1 five times while posting the best average in any pro category (2.85), he also has had the quickest car in the critical opening round.

Eight times in 14 races, his Jimmy Prock-prepared Mustang has been quickest in round one. On four other occasions, it was second best, but with a time that was within a hundredth of a second of the leader.

That's one of the reasons Hight leads Force by 84 points and Gary Scelzi by 96 entering this, the final race of the critical Western Swing.

Nevertheless, Force and Scelzi are understandably hesitant to characterize the competition as a "shootout."

That's because, in a real "shootout," neither would have much of a chance against the rookie who, before he ever climbed into a 7,000 horsepower Funny Car, was a world class marksman, one of only a handful to have recorded a trapshooting grand slam (perfect scores in each of the three standard disciplines).

Force is convinced that the powers of concentration Hight developed in trapshooting have contributed significantly to his quick transition. Hight, however, is more inclined to credit Force, Prock and the John Force Racing, Inc., family.

"Jimmy's unbelievable," he said. "He's really got a handle on the tune-up and it doesn't seem to matter what the conditions are. We've had a good car when the weather's cool and we've had a good car when it's hot. That's Jimmy and the crew. I'm just the guy lucky enough to drive."

     Hight grew up in the JFR system as a crewman on Force's own Castrol GTX®
Funny Car.  When Force opted last year to put former Hight crewmate Eric Medlen in
the cockpit of the Castrol SYNTEC  Ford as a rookie, the door was opened.

"If Eric had failed, I wouldn't have had the opportunity (to drive)," Hight said. "John took a chance on Eric and then he took a chance on me, too. I think when John gave two guys who never had driven before a chance, it opened the eyes of some other owners to the possibilities (of developing young driving talent)."

Considering his total lack of experience, there was a time when Hight simply would have been happy to qualify for all 23 races in the series. With two wins and two runners-up, however, including final round appearances in the first two races in the Western Swing, he's been forced to re-assess that position.

"At the start of the year, my main goal was to qualify for every race," Hight said, "but once you win a round, you want to win another. Then, if you win a race, that raises the bar ever further. Now I know I'm in a car capable of winning the championship. That puts more pressure on me, but, hopefully, I'm up for it."

As the son-in-law of a drag racing icon and the new driver of the Auto Club Ford in which veteran Gary Densham had won eight times in four seasons, Hight was thrust into the spotlight almost immediately. He's remained there not because of who he is, but because of what he's done. It's a resume he hopes to further enhance at Infineon.

* * * *

Did You Know? Robert was the clutch specialist on John Force's Castrol GTX Funny Car during five championship seasons (1995-1999) before becoming the manager of the JFR shop facility in Yorba Linda, Calif....Robert is married to Force's oldest daughter, Adria, the CFO of JFR, Inc., and he is the father of the 118-time tour winner's only grandchild, nine month-old Autumn Danielle Hight...for the circuit's hottest team, the pressure is on at the FRAM/Autolite Nationals, an event in which Robert is making his first start and in which crew chief Jimmy Prock has had little previous luck. With veteran Gary Densham at the wheel, the Auto Club Ford failed to make the 16-car lineup in 2001 and 2003 and went 1-2 in its other starts.

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight