Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals
Hight still not superstitious about No. 1 qualifying spot
Brainerd, prerace: Robert Hight is not the superstitious type.
So even though there has been only one winner from the No. 1 qualifying position this season (and none in Funny Car or Top Fuel), even though it's been a full year since anyone won wire-to-wire in the Funny Car class and even though he himself is 0-for-his-last-seven No. 1 starts, Hight refuses to believe that it's bad luck to do your best.
As a result, he and his Jimmy Prock-prepared Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang will roll to the starting line Friday at Brainerd International Raceway with one goal in mind: to be the quickest down the track in advance of Sunday's 25th annual Lucas Oil Nationals.
Hight, the 2005 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie of the Year, has been a dominating presence in qualifying since he made his pro debut last year as the No. 4 qualifier for the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at
Since then, he's started from the front 12 times, twice as often as any other Funny Car driver including boss, mentor, teammate and father-in-law John Force (5) and reigning series champion Gary Scelzi (6).
Nevertheless, those 12 No. 1 starts have produced just two victories, the last more than a year ago (at
Some have attributed the phenomenon to the disparity between conditions on Friday night, when track and air temperatures are optimum and when the top qualifier usually is determined, and Sunday afternoon, when heat changes the equation entirely.
"That's true," Hight said. "Sometimes you'll have a car that makes one good run on Friday night and goes to the top of the (qualifying) ladder, but that same car might not have gone down the track in the heat. So when it's Sunday, the car with the advantage may be the car in the other lane because he may have missed the Friday tune-up but made it down the track three other times in the heat.
"But that hasn't been our problem," Hight said. "Okay, a couple of times, maybe. But we usually have been good on Friday night, but we've been good in the heat, too. We've had some problems in the first round like when the blower belt broke (against Bob Gilbertson) at
Indeed, of the six times he has started No. 1 this year, Hight has been ousted in the second round four times; in the first round once. The furthest he advanced (after starting No. 1) was to the semifinals before losing to points leader Ron Capps at
It's enough to fluster even the least superstitious among us.
The fact that Hight's only 2006 victory came from the worst starting spot of his career (No. 12 at the season-opening Winternationals) merely adds to the former crewman's exasperation.
"I know I say it every week, but we just have to do a better job on Sunday. You can't win one of these races just making one or two good runs. You have to be on your game every time," he said.
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