HOW ROBERT HIGHT WAS ABLE TO RACE IN DALLAS
Defending NHRA champion Robert Hight is quick to shake off praise for his toughness. After all, the 49-year old doesn't play baseball, a sport he gave up 31-years ago, or any stick and ball sport for that matter. He's a race car driver; piloting a 10,000-horsepower, 320-mile per hour Funny Car in the National Hot Rod Association's Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
Hight climbed behind the wheel of his race car a little over a week after surgery to repair a broken collarbone suffered three days earlier when the engine in his Camaro exploded during the final round of the NHRA Midwest Nationals. The force of the explosion destroyed the body on his race car, sending the chassis housing Hight head-on into the left retaining wall.
"I’m a little sore, I’m not going to lie," Hight said one day after scoring his second consecutive NHRA Funny Car victory. "You know, just from in and out of the car. The race car itself I don’t think did anything to me. But getting in, getting out, putting a fire suit on, taking it off, and just all that stuff, a lot of movement and just a little sore today but I could drive again today if I needed to."
Such an injury would have sidelined the average racer three weeks with a plate and screws best-case scenario, or heal naturally an eight-week span.
So how did Hight bypass all of those best-case conventional options?
Hight and his team created the equivalent of a flak jacket to protect his injured shoulder.
Enter Pro Stock racer Greg Anderson who knows a thing or two about the challenges of gaining medical clearance. Anderson, in 2014, was sidelined for the first five races of the season after undergoing heart surgery. When he returned, he was outfitted with a special chest protection device.
"Greg Anderson kind of gave me a start because when he had his open heart surgery, Simpson made him a chest protector out of carbon fiber," Hight explained. "Well, they sent me one, but that wasn’t going to fix or help me, but what it was was a starting point, to take what they’d already built for Greg and modify it to fit, to work with what I needed."
Two of Hight's shop crewmen accepted the challenge of creating a protective device for their driver. To do so, they had Hight put on his firesuit where they took measurements and then worked off of a mannequin of nearly equal dimensions.
"Then they put the head and neck restraint on it, put this apparatus from Greg Anderson on it, and connected the dots to where it was bridged over my collarbone," Hight explained. "I’m thinking to myself this is the only way a doctor’s going to release me. So I went back to the doctor Thursday before Dallas and showed him this whole thing, and he said, ‘I’m going to let you race. That really looks like you’re going to be protected."
George Hatch of Keck Medical Center in USC's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery both operated and cleared Hight for competition.
Should Hight crash again, he's not in the least worried.
Ron Capps almost saw his Funny Car season flash before his eyes – from the oddest angle, as he lay on the ground at Maple Grove Raceway, near Reading, Pa., about three weeks ago. https://t.co/xqjZGtW3Ct— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) October 8, 2018
"This thing will protect me. If I crash again, it’s going to protect my collarbone," Hight said. "And just a normal run, when you hit the chutes, you slam forward. So my collarbone’s going to be protected."
"I couldn’t believe it. When I got in the car, I was just as tight as ever, but I didn’t have a pressure point right on my collarbone."
When Hight crashed in St. Louis, he exited the car under his own power, but that didn't mean he didn't know something was wrong. Even though his collarbone was broken in half, and excruciatingly painful, it paled in comparison to thought his season was over.
"That hurt worse than my shoulder," Hight admitted. "It was like the thought of my season being over, that was the worst feeling. It overtook a broken collarbone."
It's easy to see why, halfway into the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Hight has a solid lead in the Funny Car point standings.
"It wouldn’t have mattered to me if it was in the Countdown or if it would have been at Houston at the beginning of the year, I don’t want to miss any races," Hight explained. "I love doing this. I’m very fortunate to do it, and I don’t want to miss any races. But at the same time, if I had an injury that was really, really bad, you can’t get in the car, I understand that. I wouldn’t push the envelope. But what I did this weekend, I did not put myself at jeopardy, or anybody else."
The only thing Hight put in jeopardy is the competition's chances to win a championship.