HIGHT RIDES WAVE OF MOMENTUM INTO O'REILLY SUMMER NATIONALS Auto Club Driver Has Set Records at Three of Last Four Races TOPEKA, Kansas -- Robert Hight figures his Heartland Park-Topeka Funny Car record won't survive Friday night qualifying...
HIGHT RIDES WAVE OF MOMENTUM
INTO O'REILLY SUMMER NATIONALS
Auto Club Driver Has Set Records at Three of Last Four Races
TOPEKA, Kansas -- Robert Hight figures his Heartland Park-Topeka Funny Car record won't survive Friday night qualifying at this weekend's 18th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals, ninth stop in the 2006 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
However, you might not want to cross the second year driver's name out of the NHRA media guide just yet because, while he believes his 4.729 second standard might be in jeopardy, the man most likely to eclipse it is, well, him.
The 2005 winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA's Rookie of the Year, Hight has been on a record-setting binge this spring.
In three of the last four races, the 36-year-old has whisked the Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford through the quarter mile clocks in record time, dipping to 4.702 seconds at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, to a career best 4.680 seconds at Atlanta Dragway and to 4.715 seconds last week at National Trail Raceway (Columbus, Ohio).
As a result, this weekend he will be the favorite to claim the Skoal Showdown bonus that goes to the No. 1 qualifier.
That said, it is ironic that Hight's only 2006 victory came in a race in which he qualified No. 12, the worst starting position of his career. Once in the lineup at the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationls, however, he chopped down the competition by posting the quickest time in every round of racing.
Since then, he and crew chief Jimmy Prock have struggled to find a balance between clout and consistency.
"On Friday nights, when we have the best conditions, it's easy to go out and run well," Hight said, "but to win the championship, you have to be able to run in the heat. That's what Jimmy's been working on."
Hight/O'Reilly Summer Nationals 2222
That "work" apparently is beginning to pay dividends. Hight's average for his last six runs in competition is 4.753 seconds. Unfortunately, that performance hasn't delivered a victory. He was beaten in the final at Atlanta by .009 of a second and in the second round at Columbus by .010 of a second (by teammate Eric Medlen).
"It's been a little bit frustrating," Hight said, "to have a car this good and to have so little to show for it, but the deal is, I'm still learning how to drive.
"My goal is to get better every week but we're racing against guys like John and Gary Densham and Del Worsham who've been down the track hundreds more times than I have."
Despite his protestations, Hight already has emerged as a legitimate championship contender, one who has led the POWERade point standings in each of his first two seasons in the blue, red and white Ford.
In fact, he rolls into Heartland Park in fourth place behind only Ford teammates Force and Medlen and points leader Ron Capps.