HIGHT TRIES TO BOUNCE BACK AS CIRCUIT MOVES TO TOPEKA Auto Club Ford Driver Trails Capps in Race for Championship TOPEKA, Kan. -- Stung by an early exit at Madison, Ill., one that ended his two-race winning streak in the Team Castrol/Automobile...
HIGHT TRIES TO BOUNCE BACK AS CIRCUIT MOVES TO TOPEKA
Auto Club Ford Driver Trails Capps in Race for Championship
TOPEKA, Kan. -- Stung by an early exit at Madison, Ill., one that ended his two-race winning streak in the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, Robert Hight tries to put the most feared Funny Car on the planet back on track this week when the NHRA POWERade tour moves to Heartland Park-Topeka for the 19th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals.
After reaching the finals in four of his first five starts and recording the two quickest quarter times in Funny Car drag racing history (4.646 seconds at Pomona, Calif., and 4.636 at Phoenix, Ariz.), the 37-year-old Hight was on the sidelines after a single round of racing in the O'Reilly Midwest Nationals contested last month at Gateway International Raceway.
For the 2005 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future award as the NHRA Rookie of the Year, it was another reminder of how quickly things can turn around in a sport in which the difference between winning and losing often is measured in thousandths of a second.
"If you ever think,rboy, this is starting to get easy,' you'll go out the next run and drive it out of the groove or make some other mistake," said the Heartland Park track record-holder (4.729 seconds).r"I've learned real quick that this sport will humble you.
"I try to take the approach that I'm still a rookie at this, I'm still new (and) I have a lot to learn.rI don't ever think I've got it figured out because I know I don't.rI know I'm going to continue to make mistakes, but that's how you learn.rFortunately, I'm in a real good race car and that makes a big difference."
With crew chief Jimmy Prock working his mechanical magic and Hight handling the cockpit responsibilities, the Auto Club Ford has been the performance benchmark for the class over the last three seasons.
In fact, Hight has started from atop the qualifying order in almost a third of the races he's run (17 of 52) and has been either first or second 30 times.rThis year, he's started every race he's run from either the No. 1 or No. 2 positions.
"Jimmy has given me a car that qualifies near the top (of the 16-car lineup) every week and, if I do my job, we're going to win races and go rounds.rIt's as simple as that," Hight said.
Nevertheless, having missed one race this season in the aftermath of teammate Eric Medlen's fatal testing accident, Hight rolls into Heartland Park-Topeka, a track on which he has lost in the semifinals each of the last two seasons, trailing Ron Capps by 121 points in the Funny Car driver standings.r
"It's going to be tough (to catch him), I'll be honest with you," Hight said of Capps, who has won a category best three races this year.
"He's out to a pretty big lead and there is no sign of his team struggling.rThey go down the track probably more than anybody else (and) I don't see them faltering any time soon."
That isn't to say that Hight already is conceding the $500,000 championship.rFar from it.rIn the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship format, the driver points will be re-adjusted after 17 races with just 10 points separating each position.rThat's when the real race for the championship will begin.
"Our goal is to keep doing what we've been doing," Hight said, "(because) the real race for the championship doesn't start until Indy (and the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, a race in which Hight is the defending Funny Car champion).
Hight hopes to have company in the eight-car shootout to the $500,000 top prize. Sister-in-law Ashley Force presently is in the elite eight (No. 7 in the Castrol GTX Ford) but father-in-law John Force comes into HPT only 18th in the standings, the furthest back he has been in points since 1982.