Barring a miraculous tie, there can only be one winner of the Auto Club Road to the Future award which makes today’s first-round Top Fuel battle between rookies Austin Prock and Jordan Vandergriff one of the day’s marquee match-up. Both freshman fuel racers arrived on the scene this year with tremendous potential and so far, neither one has disappointed.
Vandergriff, the nephew of team owner and former driver Bob Vandergriff, is racing a limited schedule in his DA Lubricants dragster this season but he made a positive first impression by reaching the semifinals in his debut in Phoenix. He also upset No. 2 qualifier Mike Salinas in his most recent appearance in Gainesville.
Prock is the son of championship crew chief Jimmy Prock, and the grandson of Hall of Fame Funny Car driver Tom Prock. Following a successful five-year run in Sprint and Midget cars, where he drove for Tony Stewart, he’s on tour this year as a member of John Force Racing in the team’s new Montana Brands dragster.
Prock and Vandergriff met two years ago at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School in Gainesville and they’ve quickly become fast friends. Prock was initially ticketed to race a Funny Car, but when he found out he would be joining Vandergriff in the Top Fuel class, the trash talking soon began and so far this year they’ve taken it to a new level.
“Yes, we’ve been talking smack ever since we left Frank Hawley’s,” said Vandergriff. “But, it’s mostly Austin. He’s the instigator.”
“That’s because you ain’t good enough to do it,” Prock fired back.
“I let the race track do the talking for me,” Vandergriff said.
Vandergriff will have the chance to do just that during today’s opening round of Top Fuel eliminations. For the first of what figures to be many times in their careers, Prock and Vandergriff will square off and they will be the first pair on the starting line as soon as the National Anthem concludes.
“Honestly, I don’t feel much pressure; I’m just out here having fun,” said Vandergriff. “We’re still on a part-time schedule but our goal is eventually get to full time status so I can race this guy more often. Today, we just want to get out there and run a good race.”
“Same here. No pressure. It brings me a lot of confidence that John Force and Don Prudhomme choose me to drive their race car. I just want to do a great job for them,” said Prock, noting that NHRA legend Don “the Snake” Prudhomme helped bring the Montana Brands sponsorship to the team.
Prock and Vandergriff were asked if they had a side bet riding on today’s race, but neither one would own up to anything significant.
“Nothing planned yet but I’ve got to clear it with my crew chiefs but after I wax Jordan I want him to come up and clean off my tire for the second round,” said Prock. “We both have experience doing that. He just looks a little more goofy when he does it.”
UPDATE: Score the first bout a decisive K/O for Prock who left first (.048 to .071) and led all the way to the finish line in a 3.71 to 3.74 victory.