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, boy, 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). "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. I don't ever think I've got it figured out because I know I don't. I know I'm going to continue to make mistakes, but that's how you learn. Fortunately, 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. This 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. It'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.
"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. They 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. Far from it. In 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. That'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.
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Did You Know:
Robert is one of only a handful of individuals to have achieved the target shooting Grand Slam consisting of 200 straight targets from 16 yards, 100 from 27 yards (the maximum handicap distance) and 100 doubles (two targets at once). A former California State Junior trap shooting champion, he bypassed an opportunity to try out for the 2004 Olympic team as a marksman because it would have conflicted with his job at John Force Racing, Inc.
Although he presently trails Ron Capps in the POWERade points chase, Robert Hight has gotten the best of the individual battles between the two. Hight is 8-3 against Capps in his career and this year he is perfect against the points leader. In fact, Capps has lost just four individual races this year and Hight has been in the other lane for three of them.
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