NHRA: Hight looks like a championship force

Robert Hight looks like he should be wearing a brown shirt and shorts and delivering my  packages from HSN. Parcel delivery. Short. Solid. Fit. And maybe that’s appropriate because in Hight’s day job, he delivers the mail for John Force Racing.

He drives a Funny Car 330 mph. For the last couple of years, he has just missed winning an NHRA Powerade Drag Racing championship.

“He’s got everything that it takes, not just to win a championship, but to win 10,” said Force, who has won 14 and knows a little something about what it takes. “I see so much of him in me. Ashley (Force) is still learning the ropes, but Robert is ready right now.”

Though nitro racing may be a crew chief’s sport — and Jimmy Prock is no lightweight — Hight has all the tools to saddle the horsepower and ride the lead car in Force’s Pony Express.

His icy steel demeanor seems to match his icy blue eyes. Before Hight began driving race cars, he shot clay pigeons competitively. When he said, “Pull,” he had to pick off two objects hurtling over him with his rifle.

He knows how to focus, how to concentrate, how to pull the trigger on the starting line, how to dial in to every vibration of the car, how to feel the launch, how to get off the throttle when the tires shake, how to jump back on it when they regain traction.

Drag racing is all about speed and power, but there’s a good deal of finesse involved, too. The likelihood of still being in the Countdown in the final event without ever having to win a pedal-fest is pretty dim.

Dim is not how one would describe Hight’s future as he heads into final eliminations Sunday at the season-ending Auto Club Finals in Pomona. He faces former Force protege Tony Pedregon, the defending champion.

Married to Force’s oldest daughter, Adria, Hight has a certain amount of job security on drag racing’s preeminent team.

But don’t think Hight’s marriage was seen as an opportunity for career advancement. He was a clutch specialist reticent about dating the boss’ daughter. They had been married six years before Force finally gave Hight the ride of a lifetime in 2005. In fact, Hight was passed over in favor of Eric Medlen, another guy in the JFR shop, to replace Pedregon after his 2003 championship season. It wasn’t until after Gary Densham left in the team’s third car, the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, that Hight got his opportunity in Force’s “Next Generation” campaign.

Obviously, Force wasn’t playing family favorites.

Then again, maybe he was. Force referred to Medlen, who perished last year after a testing accident, as “the son I never had.”

So far, Force is doing pretty well with the son-in-law he does have.  Hight finished fifth as a rookie and runner-up the past two seasons. Last year he was only one round win from the title. Going into the last race of this season, Hight is less than two rounds behind Cruz Pedregon and Tim Wilkerson for the title.

The Hights have already provided Force a granddaughter named Autumn. One day, Hight will give a championship to Grandpa, too.

In fact,  Force is banking on it.

“Robert will be a champion, and I’m going to make sure I see that happen,” Force said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to find the money in the next 10 years to keep this thing afloat.”

It won’t take that long.


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