No matter who wins rain-affected 57th Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, the story this week is Austin Prock. Son of John Force Racing uber-crew chief Jimmy Prock and grandson of former racer Tom Prock – whose car No. 374 he proudly sports – Austin Prock is making quite a professional debut.
Just Wednesday, John Force Racing announced they’d found sponsorship for a second Top Fuel entry to work alongside 2017 NHRA Top Fuel titleholder Brittany Force. The deal was enhanced by Don Prudhomme’s assistance in getting the backing JFR needed to get the car to the track after testing in Phoenix. Prock added Top Fuel licensing to his already-accomplished Funny Car license.
Montana Ranch / Rocky Mountain Twist, a maker of cutting tools, stepped up and based on performance in qualifying and the first round of eliminations. it’s not a bad investment. Granted there are only 14 dragsters on the grounds at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, a great disappointment for this premier class. Austin Prock went down the track in three consecutive of four rounds of qualifying. Up to the last, extremely tricky session, he improved each lap.
From his first pass down the 1,000-foot strip at 3.784sec at 323.04mph, to his second 3.771/326.63 to his best, third lap at 3.767sec at 324.75mph, Prock showed quick consistency. He had to start the first session as low man on the totem pole and in the final qualifying session, when hardly anybody could go down the track, he again was in the first pair. He had tire shake from the hit but couldn’t save it so clicked off for 5.117/81.79. It was a good lesson.
Sunday morning loomed chilly, with gloomy race-time predictions. NHRA elected to start half-an-hour early but it lingering showers caused more delay. NHRA’s crack Safety Safari had the track ready for an 11:15 start and six (of seven) pair of dragsters went to the lights and ran, with both lanes yielding winners. Prock and teammate Force were the last pair, Prock on the left leaving better but quickly losing traction. He saved it this time to take the win at 4.029 seconds at 312.21 mph.
As soon as they were done, so was the day, as persistent rain caused NHRA to delay the balance of competition until Monday’s expected sunshine.
It was a heady moment for Prock, recording his first round win in his first professional start. “I’m still speechless; I can’t believe how well this weekend has gone so far. That was the first time I’d ever pedaled a race car,” he said. “It just seemed liked instinct for me. I watched Billy [Torrence] do it two pair in front of me so I knew I had to ready for it. I was and we got the job done.”
He got the win but did have added issues: “The chutes didn’t come out. I hit the lever and the cable was about 1/16-in from getting the chutes out. I got it stopped so that was good. Kept her out of the kitty litter,” Prock said after the day was called for rain. The final pairing of Top Fuel competition, Mike Salinas and Clay Millican will determine Prock’s second-round opponent.
Competition is set to begin again at 10AM Monday. While skies are expected to be clear, it’s going to be very cold, which could throw another wrench into competition. Should Prock win his second round matchup it would be the most successful launch of any John Force Racing driver: Courtney Force won her first round at this same track in 2012 but lost in her second round.