BRISTOL, Tenn. – The plan of attack appeared to be set for NHRA rookie Austin Prock last year.
After making 10 competitive practice runs, the 23-year-old son of master drag racing tuner Jimmy Prock would make his Funny Car debut at the Feb. 7-10 season opener in Pomona, California, for the John Force Racing empire.
"Then some things changed over the winter and it was decided that we were going to go Top Fuel dragster racing," said Prock in a press conference at Bristol Dragway Wednesday morning.
Operation thrash soon got underway.
"I was in the shop all winter long just building cars because we had to change an entire Funny Car operation over to a dragster," Prock said. "It’s not just swapping the chassis. You have to change an endless amount of stuff."
The adjustment process shifted into another gear following an urgent message from the team leader.
"We actually got a call from Force about five days before the Phoenix test ended saying that we had to get our stuff out there," Prock said. "We didn’t have a team or anything, but we got the car done and showed up to the test."
Prock’s next challenge was to earn his NHRA Top Fuel license in just one day.
"I made three hits down the race track," Prock said. "I never went to the finish line, but I did just enough to get my license."
In his first qualifying attempt at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Prock posted a time of 3.784-seconds at 323.04 mph en route to a No. 8 starting spot.
"My first qualifying run was actually the first time I ever went all the way to the finish line," Prock said. "I’ve definitely been thrown to the wolves, but I think that I’ve done a pretty good job for the team."
So what sort of goal does the latest NHRA sensation have for the June 14-16 NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
"We’re here to win," Prock said. "Just because I’m a rookie with a new team and new crew doesn’t hold us back from anything. We have every piece of the puzzle, with great equipment, great sponsors, and great teachers. I expect to win a handful of races this year."
That new chief is Mike Green, who guided Tony Schumacher to a pair of Top Fuel championships.
"That wasn’t my call. I just have to make the best out of everything, and Mike seems very intelligent," said Prock, who is currently tenth in points. "John Force is known for making big changes at weird times, and it usually works out for the best."
Austin Prock has one of the more interesting backgrounds in the diverse NHRA ranks. The third-generation racer from Indiana began his motorsports adventure at age 10 in quarter midgets. Prock eventually landed a job with former NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, where he won the 2014 STARS National Midget title.
"Racing the open-wheel cars, especially on dirt, you get that feel when the tire spins or hooks up and you learn to drive sideways and keep it under control," Prock said. "I’ve done a pretty good job transitioning that into drag racing."
In Prock’s first round of side-by-side competition this season, he was able to overcome a serious case of tire shake to earn the win.
"I had never felt that before, but it was instinct where I’ve raced all those years in circle track and was able to recover the car," Prock said.
In addition to being the top-ranked driver in the Top Fuel class in terms of starting line reaction time, Prock has posted four round wins through nine events. That resume includes a victory against his JFR teammate, Brittany Force.
The pairing of Prock with Force developed from a conversation that NHRA legend Don "The Snake" Prudhomme had with a business associate and future Prock sponsor during a Barrett-Jackson Auction in Arizona.
With his Montana-Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist dragster, Prock is supported by two of the sport’s biggest names in Force and Prudhomme. Jimmy Prock, Austin’s father, is the crew chief for 2017 NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight
"I wanted to be a professional drag racer as long as I can remember," Prock said. "To be able to do it for John Force and having Don Prudhomme by your side too, not many people can say that
"And to have teammates like John Force, Brittany Force and Robert Hight to bounce ideas off of, that makes my learning curve easier. Really, this is a dream come true."
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