Robert Hight took off like a rocket when he settled into the seat of a nitro Funny Car in 2005, and that season's NHRA Rookie of the Year went on to win three championships and 65 trophies in the 18 seasons that have since followed. His daughter, Autumn, has been along for the ride from the beginning, and the passion for racing that she has seen in her father's eyes is now reflected back in her own as she wheels a competitive Super Comp dragster in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
"I'm a little surprised by how she's taken to this, to be honest, and her passion and desire to race," said Hight. "I've never pushed her, and in fact, I've always tried to get her to focus on school. The time to focus on school won't be around forever, but drag racing will be."
Autumn paid attention to her father's encouragement and kept school top-of-mind, and the Southern California native is now studying business at a college in Indiana. She is also, however, in possession of a very capable Super Comp entry and preparing to race as often as possible out of one of drag racing's most supportive communities.
"You can see how bad she wants to do this, and how excited she is to get to the racetrack," said Hight. "Clear back in the Jr. drag racing days, she would take it upon herself to sit down and make a calendar for the year, looking at my schedule and what Jr. races in Division 7 we could hit. When it was time to go racing, she would help handle everything, get everything ready. She called me last Sunday and was detailing her car, making it look perfect. She's really paying attention to every detail. She's ready, and I really want to thank the Prose family for helping her out."
Third-generation racer Autumn, whose grandfather is 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, learned much from her family and her father during her tenure in the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League, but once she graduated to Super Comp, Hight handed over the instructing to those he felt knew the class better, including racer Michael Boehner, Billy Torrence – from whom the family purchased Autumn's car – and, most recently, the Sportsman-racing Prose family of Bob, Bobbi, Alison, and Nathan.
"I've always figured, well, she'll probably pay more attention to them than me – they know more about bracket racing and Super Comp than I do," explained Hight, who paused a beat then added, "She'll still ask me questions though, which I like."
With the guidance, the younger Hight has made good progress in the 8.90 class since her first race at the Las Vegas divisional and her national event debut at the NHRA Finals in 2022. Last fall, she reached the final round at the division race in St. Louis, defeating then-world champion Jim Glenn in round one and later surviving a double-breakout with John Labbous. Phil Smida got the nod in the final, but Autumn's dad was no less proud.
"To get to the final at a division race that had 120 cars, that's pretty impressive," said Hight, who admitted that he sees some of his own traits in his daughter. "When I was that age, racing was all I could think about. I wasn't fortunate enough to have a Super Comp car to go racing; I took the path of working on a team and got into NHRA Drag Racing that way. But, it's all she thinks about, too."
Hight stressed that school was still most important for Autumn, but he does see a continuation down a path in drag racing. After a few years in Super Comp, there is the possibility of a move forward into an A/Fuel car, but he is letting Autumn lead the way.
"Number one, she has to finish school, then we'll see how it all progresses," he said. "We're not going to push it, we'll take our time and see if she [continues] to have the interest and desire."
As for this year, Hight's own focus will be a bit different, at least at the start. The president of John Force Racing is temporarily stepping out of the driver's seat for personal medical reasons, and Austin Prock will be filling in as driver of the Cornwell Tools/AAA Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car to begin the 2024 season. When Hight will be back behind the wheel has yet to be determined.
"It all depends; I'm leaving that open and taking it day by day," he said. "But I'm definitely looking forward to watching Autumn race."