HIGHT HOPING TO GET MAGIC BACK IN TOPEKA TOPEKA --- Robert "Top Gun" Hight will make his fourth trip to Heartland Park this weekend and he is hoping to finish as well as he has started this time around. The past three times Hight has raced at ...
HIGHT HOPING TO GET MAGIC BACK IN TOPEKA
TOPEKA --- Robert "Top Gun" Hight will make his fourth trip to Heartland Park this weekend and he is hoping to finish as well as he has started this time around. The past three times Hight has raced at the O'Reilly Summer Nationals he has qualified No. 1 but he has not been able to translate that qualifying success into a trip to the winner's circle.
Last year it looked like he was going to make a serious move up the point standings when points leader Ron Capps failed to qualify but a spectacular second round explosion versus Scott Kalitta ended his chances of grabbing a win. During the fiery ride to the top end Hight was saved by improvements to the cockpit padding following the tragic loss of teammate Eric Medlen in Gainesville.
"That was the biggest fire I have ever had. It was right before the finish line and it blew up. A cylinder head came apart and it blew the whole intake port out of the head. When it did that it is just instantaneously blew oil all over the windshield and it was on fire," said Hight. "From the time it exploded until it stopped I couldn't see a thing. I got the chutes out, got the fuel off, and I got on the brakes probably too hard. It was a hot, hot fire real fast. I knew I hit the right hand wall because it slammed me to the right and my head hit the roll cage."
The video of Hight's ride was popular download on YouTube considering he spent the last seconds of the ride on top of his flaming Auto Club Ford Mustang steering with his feet at an estimated 60 miles per hour.
"It glanced back across the race track and hit the left wall and I actually thought when it hit the left wall that it had gone into the sand and that it was stopped. I exited out of the top because my legs and feet were getting real hot," said the unflappable former crewmember. "When I got out up on the roof I could see that I was still going and it was way too fast to bail off. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) and I looked at the computer and basically I was probably going 60-70 miles per hour when I got out. I wasn't about to go back down in there because it was so hot. I sat on the roof and used my feet to work the brake handle and I got it slowed down to about thirty miles per hour when it nosed into the sand."
This season Hight and his Auto Club crew will once again enter the NHRA O'Reilly Summer Nationals as one of the Funny Car teams to beat. He has raced to four semi-finals this season, reached two finals, and collected a win at the season opener. In the past two events it has been teammate Mike Neff who has stopped Hight from moving into the finals. Hight is philosophical about coming up on the short end of the stick to a new teammate.
"He's beating me up here lately. There is nothing we can do about running each other during a race. We all first have to qualify and however we line up, we line up. He is going to win some and I'll win some. We are all a team and we have good race cars. That is part of having a multi-car team you are going to get beat by your own teammates or you are going to beat them quite often. It is unfortunate but if it is late in the day like the semis, like with Neff both times, we had a car in the final. It doesn't get much better than that."
As reigning track record holder at Heartland Park, the 2005 Road to the Future Award winner knows that the season is long and consistency plays a big part in any championship run. He is the only driver to have led the Funny Car points standings for at least a week each of the last four seasons and while he currently sits in the number four position he has his eye on the top spot.
He set a track record at Bristol Dragway running 4.746 seconds during the first round of eliminations on a dreary day in Tennessee and he knows that crew chief Jimmy Prock has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. In the second round of Bristol he stopped points leader Tim Wilkerson before falling to Neff in the Semis.
"Losing that Mustang last year in Topeka was tough. That was the car that ran 4.63 and 4.64. I don't know for whatever reason that car seemed to have magic. It was fast. I have high hopes for this weekend and maybe we can get some of that magic back," said a hopefully Hight. "I qualified well in Bristol on Friday and we were able to use Saturday to test. I think if we hadn't done that I don't think we would have been low ET first round and set a new track record. We definitely learned things since then we have switched all of our cylinder heads over to what we ran on Saturday at Bristol."
Heartland Park holds a lot of memories for the young John Force Racing driver. As he heads back to Kansas once again he realizes why some tracks are more special than others.
"This is a real good race track and we've had lots of luck here over the years with John Force. This was the first race I ever worked for John back in 1995. This is where I got my license and made my licensing runs," said the former test driver for JFR. "I had made runs before but this is where I actually went to the finish line and made the runs necessary to get my license. I have fond memories of this track since this is where it all started for me."