Robert Hight 2016

Robert Hight continues to set a high standard behind the wheel of the most outrageous race car on the planet, the 320-mph Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car. For the eleventh season in a row Hight won multiple Funny Car NHRA national events and qualified No. 1 at least once.

The intense 47-year-old has taken his Funny Car to more final rounds (57), won more races (37) and started from the No. 1 qualifying position more often in the last decade than any other professional Funny Car driver. No one, not John Force, not Don Garlits, not Don Prudhomme, not Kenny Bernstein, not even Tony Schumacher began their careers by winning multiple races every season. Earlier in 2016 Hight won the prestigious Gatornationals for the third time and is just one more race win away from extending this incredible streak.
 
Hight is widely considered the gold standard by which other pro drivers are measured. Last season he moved into sole possession of the No. 4 spot on the all-time Funny Car win list. Hight’s wins in Brainerd and Las Vegas were highlights along with his runner-up finishes in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout and Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Beyond that, he's won the championship (2009) and has set NHRA national performance records.

In 2005 he was named driver of the Auto Club Chevy, a car in which he won in just his fourth pro race and in which he earned the Auto Club’s Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie of the Year.

Although his worst-to-first 2009 title run was a career-maker, Hight should have won the championship two years earlier. That was the year he withdrew from an event in Houston, Texas, following a testing accident that claimed the life of friend and teammate Eric Medlen. He wound up losing the title by 19 points.

“I can’t give John enough credit,” Hight said of his meteoric rise as a pro driver. “He took a chance on a guy from northern California that had never driven anything but a Ford F-150 truck. He sold me to all the sponsors. He put me with the very best people and it’s been a dream come true.”

After toiling in relative obscurity for 10 seasons at JFR, first as a crew member on Force’s Funny Cars and later as manager of the team’s California shop facility, Hight was ready when opportunity knocked. Now, he is hoping to secure the team’s 19th series title.

It has been a rocket ride for the usually soft-spoken Hight who developed an interest in all things mechanical working with his father in his hometown of Alturas, Calif. By the time he was 16, he already had restored a Plymouth Belvedere, a car that would serve as transportation to college in Sacramento where he earned AA degrees in business and accounting while working part-time at Tognotti’s Speed Shop.

Upon graduation, and to the consternation of his parents, Hight began looking for career opportunities in drag racing. After starting as a Top Fuel dragster mechanic for Roger Primm Racing and driver Del Worsham, he fumbled his first opportunity with Team Force because of opposition from his family and then girlfriend.

Fortunately, he got a second chance when he took over as the clutch technician on Force’s Funny Car midway through the 1995 season. He celebrated in the winners’ circle his first week on the job, a habit that’s been hard for him to break.

If there was a victim of Hight’s total commitment to his racing career, it was his “other life” as a world class marksman.

One of a small number of shooters to have achieved the Grand Slam of marksmanship – 200 consecutive targets at the standard 16-yard distance, 100 at the maximum handicap distance (27 yards) and 100 doubles (two targets at once), Hight was good enough to be considered for a berth on the U.S. Olympic team.

It’s an opportunity he chose not to pursue because of his racing career although he has applied the sport’s hand-eye coordination and concentration skills to his driving.

As a youngster, he also dreamed of a career in baseball and although he never played professionally, his racing success led to his introduction to one of his baseball idols, former Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda.

“It’s been great,” Hight said of his career, “but Jimmy and I still have a lot to accomplish. I’ve got a great team. We’re not through winning. I can promise you that.”