HIGHT NO. 1 QUALIFIER AT O'REILLY SUMMER NATIONALS TOPEKA, Kansas -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight, who crushed the Funny Car competition in Friday and Saturday qualifying for the 22nd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals at Heartland ...
HIGHT NO. 1 QUALIFIER AT O'REILLY SUMMER NATIONALS
TOPEKA, Kansas -- Robert "Top Gun" Hight, who crushed the Funny Car competition in Friday and Saturday qualifying for the 22nd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka, will focus Sunday on further diminishing the Full Throttle points lead enjoyed by boss, teammate and father-in-law John Force.
Hight, who thus far has been perfect in the month of May, driving his Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to consecutive victories at Madison, Ill., and Atlanta, Ga.,will try Sunday to win three races in a row for the first time in his six-year career.
Although he was in third place when he arrived in Kansas on Thursday, the former world class marksman moved around sister-in-law Ashley Force Hood during qualifying and will start Sunday from second place, 109 points behind Force.
The reigning Full Throttle Champion, Hight was quickest in three of four qualifying rounds and, as the only driver to break the 4.10 second barrier, will start No. 1 for the 35th time in his career, for the third time this season and for the fourth time in six appearances at Heartland Park.
The 40-year-old former Force crew member will even get a head start toward his first Topeka victory when he races unopposed in round one, the result of the first short field of Funny Cars at an NHRA race since 1993.
"It's nice to have a bye," Hight said. "There have been a lot of firsts (at Heartland Park) for me. The first time I joined John Force Racing was at this race in 1995. I got my (Funny Car) license here in 2004. Now, we'll see if we can get three in a row. That would be a first for me, too.
While Hight was dominant on both Friday and Saturday, laying down a 4.158 second effort in the Saturday heat, his teammates weren't too bad, either. After being frustrated by magneto problems on his first qualifying attempt on Friday, Force was solid in every session thereafter, got the maximum bonus points with a 4.177 in the last session and ultimately claimed the No. 6 spot at 4.118 seconds.
"That wasn't too bad at all," Force said of his final run. "It's about time. Neff and Coil (crew chiefs Mike Neff and Austin Coil) leaned on it. Last night, we expected the number (Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock) ran (4.095), but out there in the heat, with everybody running 4.20s, like Ashley and myself, you watch (them) jump up and run that 4.15 (and you think), 'that old car is on steroids or something.'"
Force Hood, meanwhile, also battled back from first session problems (a burned piston) to qualify No. 8 at 4.133. The upshot is that both will move into Sunday eliminations, like Hight, with the benefit of lane choice.
Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang and, to date, the season's only three-time Funny Car winner, will oppose another 2010 winner, Matt Hagan, in round one. Force Hood, who was runner-up at this event a year ago, will take her first steps toward a one round improvement in a match with No. 9 qualifier Del Worsham.
While Hight will move into the elimination phase as a prohibitive favorite despite the fact that he was "only" third quickest in the last session, his path is fraught with pitfalls. After all, of the 34 previous occasions on which he has started a race from the front of the pack, he has won just four. The last was at the O'Reilly Super Start Batteries Fall Nationals last September at Dallas, Texas.
"We were trying to run harder that last run and it didn't work out," said the 16-time tour winner, whose 4.196 was trumped by both Force and Ashley (4.184). "(Jimmy) is looking at the data. It spun (the tires) down track a little bit. It is definitely tricky driving in this (25 mile-an-hour) wind. I don't believe it was a direct headwind. I think it was kind of at an angle (but) if it gets to moving just a little bit, it really wants to push you around."
Despite the bye run, Hight doesn't plan to take it easy Sunday.
"We are going to probably push really hard," he said, "(because) we will want to maintain lane choice for second round (when) we'll have a tough match-up with either Ashley or Del. There are no easy rounds. Even as good as we are running, it's tough. We'll see if we can't make it three (wins) in a row, (but) it's going to be a lot of work to get there.
"The year of the big fire (2007) was probably my best shot at winning this race," Hight continued. "We were doing well. It was a hot day and we had a big fire (in the second round after qualifying No. 1). We made the call (for the semifinals), but we (just) started it and shut if off before we raced Jim Head.
"Maybe tomorrow is our day. It seems like you have certain luck at certain tracks. For whatever reason, Atlanta, where we just raced, we all have good luck there. The way my car is running right now, (though), I think we can make our own luck."
While Sunday still can make or break the weekend for JFR and Team Castrol, Force's youngest daughters, Brittany and Courtney, laid a solid foundation on Saturday as both advanced out of the first round in the Top Alcohol Dragster class.
The No. 3 qualifier, Courtney used a solid 5.525 second time to get her Brand Source/Ford Racing A/Fuel dragster past the hybrid of Richard Putz and Brittany, who flew in late Friday night after handling student teaching responsibilities in Southern California on Friday, upset Chris Demke in her BrandSource entry, earning her first round win of the season.