WITH RE-CONFIGURED MUSTANG, HIGHT FLYING SOLO THIS WEEK
Auto Club Driver Pursues Final Four Berth Without Teammates
RICHMOND, Va. – Now that he doesn't have to worry about the "hot spot" in his Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, Robert "Top Gun" Hight can focus on getting himself off the "hot seat" in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship.
After failing to qualify for the most recent event in the POWERade Series, the seven-time tour winner faces a daunting task this week when the POWERade pro tour moves to Virginia Motorsports Park for the 20th annual TORCO Racing Fuels Nationals.
With a berth in the NHRA's final four on the line, the 2005 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future award tries to reverse his fortunes in a Mustang re-configured by Ford engineers after a Sept. 23 crash left teammate and father-in-law John Force seriously injured.
"It's untried," Hight said of the car delivered to the track Wednesday night and assembled on Thursday, "but, trust me, the crew chiefs wouldn't send it out there if they didn't think it could compete. I'm actually looking for it to be a better car along with being safer. Until we go down the track, we won't really know, but I have a feeling that it might be better."
As if changes to his race car weren't cause enough for concern, Hight also will be racing solo for the first time in his driving career. Force remains hospitalized in Dallas, Texas, unable to drive the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang, and time constraints made it impossible for engineers to complete changes to rookie Ashley Force's Castrol GTX Ford in time for this week's race.
Eric Medlen, who began the season in a fourth John Force Racing Mustang, succumbed last March to injuries suffered in a testing accident that led to an initial round of safety improvements that included additional cockpit padding and development of new head restraints that restrict side-to-side as well as back-and-forth movement.
Force's crash, which left the 14-time series champion with broken bones, lacerations, abrasions and a severely dislocated left wrist, exposed a chassis weakness beneath the driver's legs that engineers characterize as a "hot spot."
According to Pat DiMarco, a vehicle diagnostics engineer for Ford Racing Technology, the chassis changes ultimately made to Hight's car by McKinney Corporation were designed to move the hot spot "further forward, in front of the driver's feet" instead of beneath them.
"You change the bar configurations add, subtract and move bars," DiMarco said, "so basically the load path from the tires gets transferred to the chassis (at) a different point so (that) you're dispersing the high-stress area across the chassis."
While Hight may not be concerned by the design changes, he's just a little apprehensive about the 30 additional pounds his car will carry into qualifying on Friday.
"That's a lot of weight," said the former crewman on Force's Castrol GTX Ford, "but I think Jimmy (crew chief Jimmy Prock) makes enough horsepower to overcome it. Besides, most of the guys we're racing against have made the same changes and have the same problems with weight."
A seven-time tour winner, Hight is poised to become the third different JFR driver in five years to win the $500,000 POWERade championship. Tony Pedregon, Medlen's predecessor in the Castrol SYNTEC Ford, won the 2003 title while Force won in 2004 and 2006. Ironically, Hight trails Pedregon by 13 points in the current standings.
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Did You Know:
Robert Hight qualifies No. 1 more often than any other Funny Car driver (22 times in 65 career races), but his results when starting from the front of the pack have been inconsistent. In addition to three wins, he has three first round losses, nine second round losses, six semifinal losses and a final round loss (earlier this year at Phoenix).
– Robert is a former world class marksman and California junior trapshooting champion who turned down the opportunity to try out for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team because the time required would have interfered with his racing career.
– Robert is one of only a handful of marksmen to have scored a trap shooting Grand Slam by hitting 200 straight targets from 16 yards, 100 from 27 yards (the maximum handicap distance) and 100 doubles (two targets at once).
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