Hight, Prock look to lock up first funny car title
Auto Club driver Robert Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock are heading to a track that they are very familiar with but in a total new position. The tandem enters the 45th Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals as the points leader and the favorite to win their first NHRA Full Throttle championship.
For Hight a successful weekend at Auto Club Raceway would be a culmination of a dream that he thought had already come true on one level when he joined John Force Racing as a crew member.
“I never honestly dreamed that I would be at this point. I didn’t ever think that I would ever get to drive a race car. I was just content and happy driving down the road in John Force’s truck and working on his race car, and I just owe it all to him for giving me this opportunity to come out here. When you’re on a team like this, you’re expected to win, so that puts a little added pressure on you, but you also know that you have good equipment, a good car, and that makes it easier to learn. Trust me I’m still learning,” said Hight.
The perennial championship contender Hight has been in position to win the Funny Car title almost every year of his racing career. The previous two year have by far been his best opportunities but a mechanical failure at the Las Vegas race in 2007 and then tire smoke in the first round of the Auto Club NHRA Finals last season sealed championship victories for Tony Pedregon and Cruz Pedregon, respectively.
Throughout the brief Countdown to 1 history the Funny Car driver that has entered the Auto Club NHRA Finals with the points lead has gone on to win the title. Hight hopes that trend continues but he knows he still has work to do when qualifying gets underway in Pomona.
“To have a 105 point lead going into Pomona it gives you a lot of confidence. It is still not over. I think the only (teams) that really has a chance are (teammate) Ashley (Force Hood) along with Tony (Pedregon) and (Jack) Beckman,” said 14-time NHRA national event winner.
“I knew that we would figure this thing out and fix it. Jimmy Prock has just done such a great job since the Countdown started even at Indy (where Hight reached his fourth consecutive final) getting three wins in five races of the Countdown. That is stout. It has all been on performance. We have not gotten lucky. I haven’t had to pedal the race car. We have just out muscled these guys. That is what Cruz Pedregon did last year.”
For crew chief Jimmy Prock a championship season would also me a momentous occasion. Prock narrowly missed winning a Top Fuel championship in 1992 with Cory McClenathan. They came in second place nine points behind Joe Amato. The team was forced to skip the Montreal NHRA national event for economic reasons missing out on the 10 entry points. Since then Prock has been right at the cusp of championship glory with Hight. The veteran tuner knows that being close does not give him an advantage or a right to a title win.
“I don’t feel I’m owed (a championship). Nobody is owed anything in this, you have to earn it, and you need to be just fortunate. Did I ever think that maybe we would never win a championship? Maybe not, but I didn’t believe that. You just come here and give it your best shot. As long as we give it our best we have to live with those results,” said Prock.
Hight will be racing at his home track and one that he has had considerable success at over his career. A five time finalist in nine races he won the Auto Club NHRA Finals in 2007 and has two previous Winternationals victories to his credit (2006 and 2008). He has only been ousted in the first round twice at the storied facility.
With a 105 point lead going into the last race of the season Hight controls his own destiny. It is a destiny that he has been focused on all season, throughout the teams many ups and downs. The corner was turned when his teammate Ashley Force Hood’s crew chiefs Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Ron Douglas worked with Prock down the stretch of the regular season. The input to Prock and the never say die attitude of the entire Auto Club Ford Mustang team have Hight ready to join a distinguished list of recent Funny Car champions.
If he is successful he knows he will not be joining that list on just his own merits.
“Ashley’s team is one of the main reasons we are in the Countdown. They fixed us. We were just lost. It’s amazing what a win can do and get you that confidence back. You can just see Jimmy Prock, he’s not lost out there. He doesn’t go to the car 100 times to change things. He leaves the pit area with a tune-up and he might make a little change in the staging lanes and then boom, it goes.”