Drag racing's Robert Hight has more wins in his class this year, five, than any driver. But he still enters the NHRA's title playoff chasing his boss, the legendary John Force.
To make their rivalry even more pronounced, Hight is president of Force's Yorba Linda-based team and he's Force's son-in-law.
Hight and Force race funny cars -- one of the two elite, 300-mph classes of dragsters -- and somehow they set aside the family and business connections when they get to the starting line of the drag strip.
Force, at 65, has won a record 16 funny-car titles. Hight, 45, won the championship in 2009.
Now they're preparing for the National Hot Rod Assn.'s six-event Countdown to the Championship playoff that starts Sept. 12-14 in Charlotte, N.C., and ends at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Nov. 13-16
Force earned the top seed among the 10 funny car drivers in the Countdown by leading the regular-season standings. Hight was second, 80 points behind Force.
The 10 drivers' points will be reset for the playoff in 10-point increments based on how they finished the regular season, and Force gets an additional 20 points for leading during the regular season. So Force will start the Countdown with a 30-point lead over Hight.
The NHRA's premier Mello Yello Series finished the regular season over the Labor Day weekend with one of its most prestigious events, the U.S. Nationals near Indianapolis. Force lost in the final round to event winner Alexis DeJoria on Monday but, before that, Force knocked out Hight in the first round of eliminations.
Hight said this season has been "the polar opposite from 2009," when he peaked late to win the title. This year four of his five victories came before mid-May, and included three consecutive wins.
"We believe we can win every race we go to," Hight said in an interview. "But it's always in the back of my head: Are we peaking at the wrong time? Are the other guys ... going to come alive when it counts?"
But if Hight loses the title to Force -- or even to Force's daughter Courtney, who's also in the Countdown playoff -- Hight said the only thing that matters is keeping the title in the family.
"That championship needs to stay here in Yorba Linda, that's the goal," Hight said.