SEATTLE, Wash. – So far this season, Robert Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang has demonstrated all the traits of the protagonist in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “There Was a Little Girl.”
To paraphrase, “when it’s been good, it’s been very, very good, but when it’s been bad, it’s been horrid” – which is the issue that Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock must address this week when the NHRA’s Full Throttle tour moves to Pacific Raceways for the 24th annual O’Reilly Northwest Nationals.
Significantly, Hight has driven the high profile Mustang into the winners’ circle four times in 13 races this year, tying teammate and Funny Car points leader Mike Neff for the category lead. The rub is that he also has been ousted in the first round four times and in the second on four other occasions, most recently at last week’s FRAM-Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, Calif.
It’s a pattern of inconsistency that the 22-time tour winner knows could burn him once the Countdown to 1 playoffs begin next month.
“Last week, on three of the four runs in qualifying, even when it went down the track, it rattled (the tires),” Hight said of his car’s performance in qualifying him No. 2 behind boss and father-in-law John Force.
“In the first round, it was smooth (resulting in a best-of-the-day 1,000-foot time of 4.110 seconds) but, in the second, it rattled again and didn’t go through it,” lamented the 2009 Full Throttle Series champion. “We know we have to fix that. We have to make changes starting this week so everything is worked out before (the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., the sport’s biggest single event).
“This is the same thing we were fighting at the end of last year,” Hight said, referring to a Jekyll-and-Hyde 2010 season in which he won four of the first 17 races but didn’t win a single round in six playoff events. “For whatever reason, mine is the only one (of the three John Force Racing Mustangs) that rattles like that.
“We know we have to do something different,” he continued, “and Seattle is a good place to turn it around. We really, really need to do some testing but there’s no time to test. So we’ll try and work out as many issues as we can this week.
“Honestly, I can’t wait for the Indy test session (the week before the start of the U.S. Nationals).”
Owner of the quickest times ever recorded at both the 1,000 foot (4.005 seconds) and quarter mile (4.636) distances, Hight set the current Pacific Raceways record of 4.056 seconds, 304.39 miles per hour in 2008. That’s the kind of performance he and Prock will be seeking this week – but in multiples.
While Hight has acknowledged that at this point his team might have to take a step back to move forward, he doesn’t believe that precludes his being able to clinch a guaranteed playoff berth this weekend.
The only driver other than Neff to have led the Full Throttle points this year, Hight currently trails his Castrol GTX teammate by 163 points
“If we had won (last week), it would have put us 80 points closer to Neff and we would have had a shot at the top spot,” Hight said. “Now, we just want to hold on to No. 2 and get more consistent before the playoffs.”
To clinch one of the 10 Funny Car playoff berths for the fifth straight year, Hight must leave the Northwest at least 300 points ahead of whomever is No. 11. At the present time, that position is occupied by Johnny Gray, who will roll his Service Central Dodge into Pacific Raceways 395 points behind Hight.
Although he has been the No. 1 qualifier at the Northwest Nationals in four of six previous appearances, Hight hasn’t won at Pacific Raceways and hasn’t been to the finals since he lost to friend and teammate Eric Medlen as a rookie in 2005.
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