HIGHT / NEFF
HIGHT’S GOALS: CLINCH THEN DOMINATE THE MOUNTAIN
DENVER (July 17, 2012) — When your surname is Hight you get a lot of puns and jokes thrown your way heading to the MOPAR Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway. For two time Mile-High Nationals winner Robert Hight he would like to be the one laughing on Sunday afternoon from the winner’s circle. Hight enters the first race of the grueling Western Swing as the Funny Car points leader and winner of a class leading four events but it has been three months since Hight hoisted a trophy.
“We got hot at the start of the season winning four races in a row and since then we have been trying some things and having a little bit of bad luck. We had a massive points lead so we had that luxury with the Countdown. At the end of the day you want to have the points lead going into the Countdown but as long as we leave Indy one point or 400 points ahead of the second place driver it will only be 30 points going into Charlotte,” said Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang.
“The Western Swing is where you can get some momentum and I am glad we are starting in Denver. You have to have a special combination up on the mountain. My crew chief Jimmy Prock has a great tune-up and I am excited to be getting back on the track after Norwalk.”
In Norwalk Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang had a tough three days in the Ohio heat. He was the No. 16 qualifier and caught a break when Johnny Gray’s parachutes deployed on his burnout in the first round. Hight advanced to round two where he dropped the race to eventual finalist Tim Wilkerson. Hight would just as soon put the hottest race of the season behind him.
“It was brutal in Norwalk but it was brutal for everyone. We just got behind on Friday and could never really catch up. I was fired up to see Neff win because like us he has been kind of searching for a few things the past couple of months. He talks with Jimmy a lot and all the crew chiefs have been talking a lot about the Countdown as well as the Western Swing. I think all our Ford Mustang Funny Cars will be ready to go for this home stretch before the Countdown,” said Hight.
Last year Hight’s teammate Mike Neff was the first Funny Car driver to punch his ticket to the Countdown. If Robert Hight can qualify for this year’s 33rd installment of the MOPAR Mile-High Nationals he will follow in Neff’s tire marks as the first driver in 2012 to guarantee himself a chance to race for the Funny Car Full Throttle Championship and a $500,000 check at the season ending banquet. John Force was the first Funny Car driver to clinch a Countdown spot in 2010 and in 2009 Ashley Force Hood was the second Funny Car driver to clinch after Ron Capps.
“Getting in the Countdown is the goal at the start of the season and once the Countdown starts you go after that championship. Clinching in Denver would be awesome because it takes a lot of pressure off the entire Auto Club team. We can focus on winning the Mile High Nationals and getting ready to try and win the Western Swing,” said Hight.
In Hight’s career at Bandimere Speedway he has qualified No. 1 twice and he has only gone into Sunday in the bottom half of the field one time (2009, 11th). So far this season Hight only has two first round losses and he has never lost in the first round in seven previous appearances at Bandimere Speedway.
“It is just cool to race on the side of that mountain. When I won in Denver my rookie year it was the first time to ever had the points lead. I want to keep my hold on the points lead and getting off to a good start at the Mile High Nationals will go a long way,” said Hight. “Ron Capps is charging. You look around at the other teams and the competition is so tough. All the slots for the Funny Car Traxxas Shootout have been secured with seven different winners.”
“The biggest key I think for the Western Swing is taking it one race at a time. We want to come out on Friday in Denver and get a good first run on the board. We have had a lot of success this season when we have started strong on Friday. Jimmy and my guys will have my Auto Club Ford Mustang ready and I’ll be focused on giving it my best.”
DENVER, Colo. – Although he might publicly agree that Bandimere Speedway’s approach to managing track temperatures is innovative, Mike Neff is not a big fan of the cooling system that this week will circulate 24,000 gallons of water beneath the first 200 feet of the racecourse for the 33rd annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals.
Installed during a 2008 makeover that converted the track from concrete-and-asphalt composition to all-concrete, the subterranean “cooler” can reduce surface temperatures by as much as 10 degrees. For Neff, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
As driver and crew chief on the best hot weather hot rod on the planet, the Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang, the 45-year-old native Californian has thrived on his ability to adapt to conditions, particularly when track temperatures soar above 120 degrees, as they typically do during the three races comprising the Western Swing.
A case in point was the most recent stop on the NHRA Full Throttle tour. Two weeks ago at Norwalk, Ohio, on a hot, slippery 140-degree track that proved unmanageable for most, Neff dominated and, for the second straight year, won the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.
The last time it was that hot at Bandimere (2006), the former motocross rider enjoyed the same level of success while serving as crew chief to Gary Scelzi, with whom he won a Funny Car championship in 2005.
On a Bandimere track whose temperature fluctuated between 133 and 142 race day degrees, Neff sent Scelzi to the quickest elapsed time in every racing round, culminating in a final round conquest of Cruz Pedregon.
But that was then. In the Bandimere present, since the makeover, Neff’s cars have gone just 5-4 with no race wins. Still, the former off-road truck mechanic is loathe to blame that reversal solely on the “cooler.”
“It’s not an exact science,” said the eight-time tour winner. “Whether the track is 100 degrees or 140, there are challenges you have to deal with. Sometimes, it’s just your day and sometimes it’s not. Anything can happen. That’s what’s exciting about NHRA drag racing. You can’t make it up in the next turn. You get one shot at it. You either get it right, you catch a break or it’s over with – and you have to do that four times in one day.”
“I feel good about our race car,” he said, “but we’ll just have to go out there and see what happens.”
Neff not only is encouraged by his car’s recent success but also by the fact that, two years ago, he was able to put boss and teammate John Force in the Denver final on a cooler race track (98 degrees to a high of 118) as crew chief on the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford.
Significantly, Neff seems to be peaking at just the right time – with the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs on the horizon.
After a strong start, he struggled through a stretch that included one qualifying failure and three first round losses that dropped him from first place in points to fifth. His Norwalk win moved him back up to third behind teammate Robert Hight and veteran Ron Capps.
“Last year, for whatever reason, we just lost the handle in the playoffs,” Neff said, explaining his free fall from first place to fifth in the final order. “Last year, we led the points the whole way (into the playoffs). But we learned some things and, this year, we’ve kinda racing under the radar a little getting reading for those last six races.”
That preparation continues this week in the first of the three events in the critical Western Swing which continues the next two weeks at Sonoma and Seattle.
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