To say that it has been a whirlwind week for Austin Prock is a little like saying that his boss, 16-time NHRA champion John Force, is a little good.
Exactly one week before he’ll pull into the staging beams at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona today for the first round of eliminations, he found out that the timetable on his “development” as a future driver for John Force Racing had been accelerated quicker than his dragster.
Prock, the son of longtime JFR tuner and world champ wrench Jimmy Prock and grandson of former national event Funny Car finalist Tom Prock, had been with the team as a crewmember but also earned his Funny Car license last year, and last Sunday was at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix during preseason testing to crossgrade that license for Top Fuel with the expectations of making his debut later this season.
That all changed when team owner Force decided to enter Prock at the Winternationals to take advantage of the smaller field size. The team didn’t even have a sponsor to fund the endeavor until NHRA legend Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, a longtime Prock family friend, introduced Force to entrepreneur Frank Tiegs, who owns and is heavily involved with Montana Brand and Rocky Mountain Twist among other successful companies. Prudhomme went to bat for the kid, touting his lineage and his already noticeable skills, and a deal was quickly struck.
By Wednesday, Prock was officially entered for the event, and for the first 10 events on the schedule, too.
“Don has been a good family friend of ours, and it’s cool for him to stick his neck out for me,” said Prock. “He’s making my dream come true.”
The kid quickly proved worthy of that faith, making passes of 3.784, 3.771, and 3.767 to easily qualify for the Pomona field, and he showed no signs of nervousness or intimidation at the task.
“I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to be nervous,” he said. “I’ve been a little numb, and I may be nervous for first round, but if I just go up there and do the same thing I’ve been doing, I’ll be fine.”
Ironically, his first-round matchup is against his teammate, Brittany Force. Go figure.
“The only good thing is that we’ll have a JFR car in the second run,” he said, saying the veteran kind of thing that Force would say if he was running Robert Hight. “I’ll take that positive out of it, we’ll give it our best shot, I know they’ll give it their best shot, and we’ll see who wins.
"I feel good. This weekend couldn’t have gone much better considering the way this deal came together at the last moment and having to find guys. We all came together and worked together really well. I think we’ll be competitive.”
Even though he licensed in a Funny Car, he also had some early seat time in the A/Fuel Dragster of Anthony DiCero, so driving a dragster was not new to him, but he’s glad that he got the Funny Car seat time, too.
“They’re not anything alike; I don’t care what anyone tells you,” he said of the difference between a Funny Car and a dragster. “The Funny Car hunts around on you a lot more; it feels like it’s moving left to right quicker than it’s accelerating, where the dragster accelerates much quicker, and it’s like in slow motion when it goes side to side. I think that driving a Funny Car first made my job a lot easier in the dragster, and I’ve been straight down Broadway on every run we’ve made down the track. I’m confident with my skill set and confident in the crew chief’s skill set, and I think we’re going to hurt some feelings out here.”
Hurt feelings? Just ask Steve Torrence. Prock “left” on world champ Steve Torrence in the qualifying run Friday, .050 to .053, and jokingly told the champ at the other end, “I’m coming for ya.”
“We’re all family out here, but it’s nice to throw a jab at your buddy now and then,” Prock said with a laugh. “I’m sure he’s going to leave on me a lot more than I’ll leave on him, but to leave on him in just my second run, that was pretty damn cool.”
Despite the jab, Prock is keeping a level head and trying to earn respect the good old-fashioned way.
“In the pits, I’m just doing the normal driver stuff — mixing fuel, packing the parachutes — but I also clean the floors when we’re done running and help load up the car, just to gain some respect from the guys, and I think that will take me a long way in my career.
“Dad is straightforward; he just tells me, ‘Don’t screw it up.’ I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job. My grandpa is excited. He wishes he could have been out here this weekend, but I’ve got his number, 374, the number he ran when he started running Funny Car, on the side of my car. That means a lot to me, and I’m sure it means a lot to him, too.”
Third-generation, first class.