HIGHT WINS AGAIN; CLAIMS O'REILLY SUMMER NATIONALS TOPEKA, Kansas -- Robert Hight's Reign of Terror continued Sunday at Heartland Park-Topeka where the sport's hottest driver and its most feared Funny Car showed no signs of relinquishing ...
HIGHT WINS AGAIN; CLAIMS O'REILLY SUMMER NATIONALS
TOPEKA, Kansas -- Robert Hight's Reign of Terror continued Sunday at Heartland Park-Topeka where the sport's hottest driver and its most feared Funny Car showed no signs of relinquishing their stranglehold on the division.
In becoming the first Funny Car driver in two years to win three consecutive tour events, the 40-year-old Hight obliterated the Heartland Park-Topeka track records en route to victory in the 22nd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals.
In a first round in which he was unopposed because of a short field of only 15 Funny Cars, Hight stopped the 1,000 foot timers in 4.074 seconds at 310.70 miles per hour, a whopping .048 of a second quicker than anyone else would run all day long.
"You definitely have that luxury when you have a single in the first round," Hight said. "We still needed to go down the track and put a good number up. It wasn't like we were putting up a moon shot or anything else. Jimmy looked at what we ran when we ran that 4.09 (on Friday night). He said if I bring the clutch a little sooner, it will run a little better and it will still be safe. It ran 310 mph. In all honesty, when I woke up this morning I was really hoping for bright sunshine because that is how we have been winning these races.
"We have been doing it under the hot sun and on greasy track conditions. When I saw the clouds I was thinking this is not good because it brings everybody closer (to us). It is easier to get down a cooler track. Right now, we can get down hot and cool tracks. We have the best of both worlds."
Whether a moon shot or not, the track record-setting 4.074 set the table for the one-time world class marksman who, with his 17th win in six seasons, moved up to 11th on the all-time Funny Car list.
It was a breakthrough Topeka victory for the reigning NHRA Funny Car champion, crew chief Jimmy Prock and the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang. In three previous No. 1 starts at Heartland Park, they never before had advanced beyond the semifinals.
Hight's Ford lost traction in the 2005 semifinals against Tommy Johnson Jr., he was nudged in 2006 by Ron Capps (4.974 to 4.989) and an engine explosion and fire probably cost him the title in 2007.
"I have always wanted to (win the Summer Nationals) because we have a lot of crew guys on my team from this area," Hight said. "We have always qualified well and sometimes you look at No. 1 qualifiers and they don't ever win (Hight had won just four times in 34 previous No. 1 starts).
"You think maybe you don't want to qualify No. 1," Hight said, "(but) the way my car is running right now, I have a lot of confidence. You can see that Jimmy Prock is just on it. At the last minute, he wants to know the track temperature and he wants to make a little adjustment here and there -- and it is working. We know this is not going to last forever (so) we are going to celebrate and cherish what we have going on right now."
This time, Hight and Prock left nothing to chance.
After qualifying No. 1 for the 35th time in six years, Hight buried the competition with a race day series that included times of 4.127, 4.122 and 4.104 seconds as well as the aforementioned 4.074.
The only hiccup in his latest Sunday drive occurred in the second round when his Auto Club Ford Mustang broke a lifter, dropped a cylinder and "slowed" to 4.127 seconds. That was .001 slower than the winning time for Capps and it cost him the choice of lanes for the semifinal.
"It was going to run 4.09 (before it broke the lifter)," Hight said. "There wasn't a problem (with the other lane). We ran 4.15 in (that lane) in the heat on Saturday. Jimmy said we'd be fine." And they were.
"It was a good win, but they're all good wins," Prock said. "We have this Mustang working pretty good. We are just continuing to work on it. We have a good set up. We have been able to adapt pretty well from hot to cold.
"It is just all working good for us right now, (but) I don't get overconfident," Hight said. "I look at it run-for-run. I feel good about how it is working (and) I'm fairly confident in what we are doing. There are a lot of variables. To get it to do exactly what you want it to do every run is not (possible). You come close (and) right now it is working good."
Despite his contributions as tuner, Prock lauded the work of his Auto Club crew.
"If all the guys around me didn't do their jobs properly, it wouldn't matter (what I did)," he said. "That is what the job relies on. My job is to make decisions. Their job is to put it all together. If they don't do that, we don't win. They deserve a ton of credit for all the wins. If their stuff isn't right, then what I think we are doing doesn't matter."
"Right now, what is happening to this Auto Club Ford is the stuff you dream about," he said. "I've won three races in a season before, but not in a row. To (do that) and win from the pole is tough. Not many guys do that. To go down the track as convincingly as we did all weekend long in the heat (was something).
Even though he struggled to reach the final round at Heartland Park in his previous apparances, Hight has a special fondness for the Kansas track.
"I flew in here in 1995 and met Austin and Bernie (Force crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly) at the airport. I had no idea what my job would be on this team. I just knew I had made it big whether I was wiping tires or whatever I was doing. I was with John Force Racing. A few years later, in 2004, I got my (Funny Car) license here. I have a lot of fond memories of Topeka."
Hight's success provided some solace for teammates Force and Ashley Force Hood, both of whom were on the sidelines early in the event. Force Hood lost a narrow first round decision to Del Worsham by .011 of a second and her father was a surprise victim Arend in another close race in round two.
"We have had some struggles this weekend with our car getting down the track without hurting parts," Force Hood said. "However, today is a new day and, unfortunately, today was not my day. I lost to Del in a very close side-by-side race. I was pretty upset, but luckily I had four other people to continue to root on since my sisters Brittany and Courtney, dad and Robert all went rounds."
Force Hood's early ouster in an event in which she was runner-up a year ago allowed Capps to slide around her and take over the No. 3 position.