SUCCESS WITHOUT THE STRESS HIGHT'S GOAL AT 2007 OPENER
Auto Club Driver Defends CARQUEST Winternationals Title
POMONA, Calif. – Robert Hight may not be able to duplicate the drama that preceded his victory in last year's CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals, but there's no doubt that the 2005 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year is capable of returning the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to the winners' circle this week at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Second in the 2006 POWERade driver standings behind boss, teammate and father-in-law John Force, Hight was the performance leader for most of last season, starting from the No. 1 qualifying position a category best nine times.
That said, he almost didn't qualify at all for last year's season-opener, ultimately bumping into the starting field in the No. 12 position, the worst qualifying performance of his brief career.
On race day, however, crew chief Jimmy Prock gave the former world class marksman a spectacular race car, one that posted the quickest time in each round of racing. However, it was anything but a walkover for the 37-year-old Hight.
Just as the Auto Club Mustang crossed the finish line in a second round win over Del Worsham and the CSK Chevrolet, an intake valve broke, the supercharger backfired and the engine erupted in flames. Hight bailed out the roof hatch, uninjured, but the damage was extensive.
The first order was replacing the carbon fiber body, which already was a backup for the 2006 Mustang with which the team had begun the race. With no other Auto Club-branded bodies available in the compound, the team raided the Auto Club display inside the Top Eliminator Club and commandeered a show car body.
That done, a small army of mechanics replaced all the plumbing, installed a new motor, replaced the fire bottles and mounted the body. Unfortunately, when Hight climbed in the car, a malfunction in the fire safety system set off the bottles, spraying retardant chemicals everywhere.
Since NHRA rules require operative fire bottles, the team had no choice but to replace them as they heard Top Fuel dragsters racing in the background at the start of the semifinal round.
After scrambling to the starting line in time to oppose Phil Burkart Jr., in the semifinals, Hight got another jolt when, on the burnout, expended fire retardant that had collected in the tinwork, spilled out onto the track. Unshaken, Hight watched as the Safety Safari crew mopped up the liquid and then drove into the finals against Ron Capps.
There, completing a highly improbable weekend, Hight outdueled Capps, 4.763-4.775 seconds.
"We're hoping to do it again," Hight said, "but maybe without so many problems. But you know, the fact that this team with five new crew members and a driver who still is learning was able to go out and handle the adversity and do what was necessary to win, that probably was the best thing that could happen."
Hight rolls into this season as one of the favorites to claim a POWERade Funny Car championship that could be worth half a million dollars in the NHRA's new championship format.
A former California junior trapshooting champion, Hight married Force's oldest daughter, Adria, while he was a crewman on the drag racing icon's Castrol GTX Funny Car. In 2005, after a year as the team's test driver, he realized a career dream when Force matched him with crew chief Jimmy Prock on the Auto Club Mustang.
He won in just his fourth professional start (at Houston, Texas) and, when he won again at Denver, Colo., he took over the points lead, keeping it for four races. He led the points last year after winning the opener. This year, his goal is to be the leader at the end of the season instead of at the beginning.
* * * *
Did You Know:
Robert Hight had closed to within 54 points of father-in-law John Force in the 2006 NHRA POWERade points race when a supercharger failed on the burnout before the first round of racing in the next-to-last event of the season the ACDelco Nationals at Las Vegas. He wound up second 112 points back.
To accommodate the many race fans attending the Winternationals, the race shop and museum at JFR will be open from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. The JFR RaceStation store, the source of drag racing collectibles and apparel, will be open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on the same days.
Youth and Education:
Robert will interact with youngsters involved in the NHRA's Youth and Education program from 8:30-10 on Friday at the racetrack.
For more information about Castrol-branded products and services, please visit us at Castrol.com/US