Hight Chips Away At Countdown Berth

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 5 2009
Robert Hight was fast Friday night at Indy. (NHRA photo)

Robert Hight was fast Friday night at Indy. (NHRA photo)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Clermont, Ind. – It’s a baby-steps kind of weekend for Robert Hight at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. You know, pick up small victories here and there and hope that on Monday afternoon they add up to a berth in the Countdown to 1.

Friday night, in the first of five rounds of Funny Car qualifying, Hight took a little step and it produced a nice smile.

Hight made the fastest past of the night. It might not hold up over the Saturday and Sunday rounds of qualifying, he may not pick up the eight points which go to the top qualifier, but at 305.36 mph in 4.107 seconds, it was what Hight was looking for.

It gave him confidence that he and his John Force Racing team are in the kind of groove which will allow them to pick up the 38 points he needs to move from 12th to 10th in the standings.

“It’s huge, huge,” Hight said when asked what his Friday night run did for his confidence. “Your confidence can go up and down so quick in this sport, you know?”

While “up” came on Friday, “downs” have been a year-long problem for Hight and his team.

There have been no victories and a steady slide down the points ladder. The worst of the worst came at Brainerd two events ago when he failed to qualify.

Things got so desperate for Hight and his Auto Club of California team that cars were switched and crew chiefs were exchanged with boss John Force for the race at Reading last time out. Force, got into Hight’s car and made it look like something it was virtually all the time last season but hasn’t been very often this year – fast.

“Putting John in my car last week and having him go down the track five runs in a row and you start thinking, whoa, maybe it’s me,” Hight said. “But I’ve been saying all year long, we’re not that screwed up, we’re not that lost, we’re close to breaking through. We just had bud luck, bad parts.”

The plan was to keep High in Force’s car at the Nationals.

Four days ago, fate intervened. When crew chief Austin Coil was hospitalized with a stomach ailment on Wednesday, Hight was put back in his car and reunited with his old crew chief, Jimmy Prock.

Hight said on Friday, it felt like he was back sitting on a comfy couch in his living room.

“I didn’t feel quite as comfortable in John’s car,” Hight said. “We did fine with it, but this is home.”

Also feeling like home is O’Reilly Raceway Park, site of the biggest event of the NHRA season and an event Hight has won twice.

The fact that Nationals have become the final race before the start of the Countdown is working in Hight’s favor.

“I haven’t really believed in luck at different tracks,” High said, “but I’m starting to now. We’ve done a lot of testing over the years here. Basically, this is our home track. We’re basically based out of Brownsburg.”

Hight said after his wonderful event-opening qualifying run that he did not think his time would hold up through the remaining four rounds. He said he thought the Saturday night round would produce track conditions which would allow someone to post a better time.

But, he said, the time should keep him in the top five and that could prove big in Monday’s eliminations.

Yep, it was at the very least, a nice baby step.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 5 2009
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