Former Crew Member Will Race for Rookie of the Year Consideration


Finally acknowledging one of the worst kept secrets in drag racing, John Force confirmed Thursday that his son-in-law, former crewmember Robert Hight, will bid for rookie-of-the-year honors in this year¿s NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series at the wheel of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang.

            ¿It¿s the changing of the guard,¿ Force said.  ¿With Robert and before him Eric (Medlen, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford) and my daughter Ashley (a three-time winner last year in the Mattel Toy Store dragster), we¿re making a game plan to keep this race team on top long after I¿ve taken my last ride.

            ¿My main job the next six years is to win championships for Castrol, Ford and the Auto Club,¿ Force continued, ¿but my other job is to help train these kids.  It¿s an exciting time for me and I can¿t wait to get started.¿

            Hight, 35, was the clutch specialist on Force¿s Castrol GTX Funny Car for six championship seasons beginning in 1995. 

            In 2001, he left the tour to become Facility Manager for John Force Racing and last season, while continuing to oversee JFR shop operations, he served as the team¿s official test driver.  In that capacity, he logged more than 30 quarter mile runs, most of them in Monday test sessions following NHRA national events.

            In fact, few rookies have been better prepared for the rigors of the pro tour.  Not only is he familiar with all the mechanical aspects of a 7,000 horsepower Funny Car and with the sacrifices that must be made in pursuit of the ultimate goal, he already has made as many runs in testing as some rivals will make in a season of NHRA racing.

            Under the watchful eye of crew chief Jimmy Prock and with instruction from the man he succeeds in the Auto Club Ford, Gary Densham, Hight posted several 4.70 second quarter mile times at speeds exceeding 320 miles per hour.

            In addition, he already is a master of two of the disciplines most critical to drag racing success: concentration and reaction.

            A champion trapshooter, Hight believes the skills he developed in mastering that sport, especially hand-eye coordination, will be a major benefit in his driving career.

            Married to Force¿s oldest daughter, Adria, and father of the 13-time champion¿s
first grandchild, Hight grew up in Alturas, a town of 3,500 in northern California.  He worked at Tognotti¿s speed shop in Sacramento while attending college and, upon graduation, began earnestly seeking a job in racing.

            He first worked for Roger Primm on a Top Fuel dragster tuned by veterans Frank
Bradley and Terry Manzer and driven by Del Worsham.  That led to an introduction to Bernie Fedderly, one of Force¿s co-crew chiefs, who subsequently offered him what he characterized as ¿the best job in racing.¿

            His first two years with the team, Hight literally lived at the race car shop, a
situation that accelerated his high speed education. 

            ¿I lived in the shop the first two winters (1995 and 1996),¿ Hight said.  ¿I didn¿t really know anybody, so I would stay down at the shop, working on the race car until midnight, one o¿clock, just tinkering, learning.  I told (crew chief Austin) Coil, if there were any little projects I could do, just tell me, and I¿d start working on them.  I may have been slow, but it was on my own time and I was learning.¿

            It was during that time that Hight connected with his wife.

            ¿Adria lived down the street,¿ he explained.  ¿She¿d drive by the shop at night and she¿d see lights on and she¿d stop and talk to me.  I never thought anything about it (but) she¿d always ask for me to go do things with her.

            ¿I didn¿t because I was afraid I¿d get in trouble.  Finally, John came to me and he said, ¿hey, if you want to hang out with Adria, don¿t worry about it.  You¿re not going to get in trouble.¿  And that¿s what happened.¿

            Although he always envisioned a driving career, Hight didn¿t actively pursue that dream until one of his former crewmates, Eric Medlen, made the transition last year as rookie driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford.

            ¿Eric set the bar last year,¿ Hight said, ¿and if I can have as good a (first) year as he did, I¿d say that¿s a success.  I¿m also going to have him to help me throughout the year because he went through everything last year.  He¿ll be able to help me a lot.

            ¿The biggest deal, the first year, is I hope I can qualify for every single race (and) hopefully win some races.

            ¿I¿m nervous, but I don¿t mind pressure,¿ Hight said.  ¿When you¿re out there shooting, if your mind just wanders for a second, you¿ll fail.  Basically, in drag racing, you only have to do something for a total of maybe two minutes.  Once you start the car until you make your run, it¿s about two minutes.  I think holding focus for two minutes should be way easier than holding focus for two hours (the time frame during which a champion trapshooter must hit 200 targets).¿

            In addition to Medlen, with whom he worked on Force¿s Castrol GTX Funny Car, Hight credited Densham, the former high school auto shop teacher, and Worsham, runner-up to Force in last year¿s NHRA POWERade Funny Car standings, for helping with his development.

¿Del and I have become great friends,¿ Hight said.  ¿He always helps me.  He watches all my runs and then we talk about it later in the week.  And Gary¿s helped a lot.  Other than John, there¿s nobody out there with more experience.  He¿s been great.¿

Hight inherits a race car that over the last four seasons won eight times for John Force Racing, the Auto Club and crew chief Jimmy Prock.  The Auto Club Mustang was runner-up at last year¿s season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., before winning the world¿s oldest, largest, richest and most prestigious single drag race, the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind.

            Hight will resume his training this week with the start of pre-season testing at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


Courtesy: John Force Racing