One man’s quest for glory began in Seattle at the 32nd annual Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Northwest Nationals with his first Top Fuel victory; another bagged a career-distinguishing win that might never be equaled in Funny Car. It was a John Force Racing team “double-up” when Austin Prock earned his first dragster victory and team owner John Force secured his 150th flopper win more than a year and 25 races after his 149th.
The head of John Force Racing does things his own way. Rather than remain at top end with Pro Stock winner Matt Hartford and with Prock, to celebrate together and then ride down the return road to face the fans, Force hopped on his scooter and headed directly for the stands, for the people who stood by the former truck driver and polio survivor as he clawed his way to the top of the Funny Car racing family.
John Force earned his first Wally winner’s trophy in 1987 at Sanair in Canada and 2019 marks the 35th year he’ll finish at least tenth in the season-long standings. The loquacious Force is looking for an unprecedented 17th national championship at the close of this 24-race season, which includes a six-race playoff that begins after the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Force has qualified for the 10-driver Countdown to the Championship and could finish the “regular” season at Indianapolis as high as second.
Much of the credit for Force’s continuing success – even past the age of 70 – can go to the youth effort on his team and his acquisition of one of the best crew chief teams in the NHRA Funny Car pits. When youngest daughter Courtney decided to step away from racing at the close of the 2018 campaign, her tuners, Brian Corradi and Daniel Hood (married to Force’s daughter Ashley), moved over to the PEAK Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS wheeled by the team’s patriarch.
Between Corradi, Hood, John Force Racing president Robert Hight’s team of Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham, JFR’s Funny Car duo have the stoutest crew chief combinations in an already stellar field. When Force earned his 150th win on Sunday outside Seattle, he did so against the always estimable Rahn Tobler and Ron Capps, a duo who combined to bring home the 2016 national championship after Capps’ long title drought. Capps gave his competitor a good run for those roses, coming up wee bit short at 4.018/309.91 to Force’s stout run at 3.971/320.58. The win marked John Force’s ninth on the Kent, Wash. dragstrip.
This was Force’s 253rd trip to an NHRA Funny Car final round and it was appropriate that he and Capps meet in their 103rd matchup as longtime racing rivals. After beating Capps, Force kissed his competitor square on the lips!
“Give me a good race car and I can race,” Ford exclaimed. “Today, luck was just with me and I got the win.”
On the other side of the JFR spectrum, young Austin Prock, a rookie in NHRA Top Fuel racing whose season-long deal to race didn’t seal until right before the Pomona opening race, has shown promise from the start. He won a round in his first two races but has suffered some consistency pains as he moved from racing karts, midget and sprint cars togging straight-line racing. Prock, who will be 24 on August 21st, has competed in 18 Top Fuel contests and has done so with the wisdom of a racer well over his numerical age.
The son of uber-tuner Jimmy Prock and grandson of Tom Prock, who last appeared in an NHRA race in 1976 (in Montreal Canada), has been dealing with learning his ride, adjusting to different crew chiefs after Jon Shaffer departed the program. Longtime Don Schumacher Racing crew chief Mike Green, who tuned Tony Schumacher to his eighth title, came over to John Force Racing to join Ronnie Thompson and helped turn Prock’s program to a winning one.
The young gun needed 10 events to reach his first semifinal and a full 18 to reach a final round. He beat the best racer on the grounds these days, Steve Torrence, as the champion lost traction in the last race of the day. The young gun arrived in the finals after beating Leah Pritchett, who had lane choice in the first round, by .001 second. In the quarterfinals he dispatched a troubled Clay Millican and in the semifinal round Prock beat two-time 2019 winner and Seattle No. 1 qualifier Mike Salinas on a hole shot.
“I’ve been looking for a holeshot win since I started this deal. That was really bad-ass to do it,” Prock said. Known as a good “leaver” already in his short Top Fuel career, Prock lost the starting line advantage against Torrence but, when the champ went up in smoke and couldn’t pedal his way past the rookie, Prock’s clean pass down the 1,000-foot dragstrip at 3.875 seconds at 307.86mph earned him his first win.
So John Force gets his 150th – finally – and Austin Prock gets his first NHRA Wally winner’s trophy. Is this a changing of the guard or a continuation? Provided Force can continue the strong run he’s had this year, there’s always the possibility of that 17th championship, which would be his second without the help of the two all-time great crew chiefs that saw him through championships 1-15, Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly.
As he credited both of those legends after his historic victory, John Force showed he’s not living in the past. The old man’s still got plenty of fight in him and now he has three younger teammates who can build his namesake team even farther: daughter Brittany, the 2017 Top Fuel champion who is currently fourth in Top Fuel, son-in-law Hight, the points leader (who has 186 points in hand over Force) and Prock, currently in ninth place with 77 points more than tenth-placed Terry McMillen.
It’s a good time to be John Force. It’s a good time to be Austin Prock. They get to relish those two victories for another week before heading to Brainerd, Minn. and the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.