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Austin Prock Paces John Force Racing with Runner-Up at Gatornationals

Austin Prock finished second in his NHRA Funny Car debut to pace John Force Racing Sunday in the season-opening 55th annual Amalie Oil Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

Prock earned No. 1 qualifier honors Friday and held on to the top spot during Saturday’s qualifying. In Sunday’s eliminations, he got past his first three opponents before losing to No. 6 qualifier J.R. Todd in the final.

Prock lost traction shortly after taking the green light and ran 5.360 seconds at 145.03 mph to Todd’s winning effort of 3.889 seconds at 329.10 mph.

“There should be nothing to hang our heads about,” Prock said. “We all are competitors. It definitely is frustrating not to get the job done. We had an outstanding car all weekend. I mean, we were almost flawless. I’m just really proud of the team.

“This thing was flying. And this place is not easy to drive a Funny Car on. I had my hands full for the weekend and I definitely have some learning to do, but I’m trying to catch on as quick as I can. And hopefully, Pomona (in two weeks) will treat us a little bit better.”

Piloting the Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, Prock is filling in for three-time NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight, who announced in mid-January that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence for personal medical reasons.

Nicknamed “the Prock Rocket,” the Lansing, Mich. native spent the last three seasons driving a Top Fuel dragster for JFR. Now that he’s filling in for Hight, the younger Prock is also driving for his father Jimmy, who has been Hight’s long-time crew chief, while Austin’s older brother Thomas, is assistant crew chief to their father.

After starting the day with a win over John Smith in the first round, the 28-year-old Prock (3.899 seconds at 332.43 mph) beat his boss, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force (3.913 seconds at 328.46 mph), owner of John Force Racing (JFR) and driver of the PEAK Antifreeze & Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, in the second round.

Prock (3.871 seconds at 334.40 mph) then topped Chad Green in the semifinals, setting up the deciding match-up with Todd.

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“For a kid being in a dragster for a couple of years, but he’s been around pressure his whole life.” John Force said of Prock. “Pressure never bothers him. With Funny Car, he’s picked up on it real quick and made a lot of test runs and we’re very proud of him. Robert (Hight) is very proud of him and his family. The kid didn’t get the win but he got the job done.”

Force then added, “He (Prock) took me out so I want to win, of course, and I wanted to do well for PEAK and Chevrolet, but some days it doesn’t happen.”

Prock leaves Gainesville second in the Funny Car standings, seven points behind race winner Todd (114 points to 106), while John Force is eighth.

In Top Fuel, Brittany Force and her Monster Energy Chevrolet Top Fuel Dragster had an early exit in the first round, losing to Billy Torrence. Brittany Force lost traction shortly after passing the starting line in her match with Torrence, finishing with an effort of 6.116 seconds at 100.86 mph.

Brittany leaves Gainesville 14th in the Top Fuel standings.

“Brittany has got a whole new program over there with (David) Grubnic and (John) Collins and he’s working out good,” John Force said. “No, I can’t complain, it was a good kickoff for the season.”

The next NHRA national event takes place in two weeks (March 21-24) with the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip in Pomona, CA.

This story was originally published on March 11, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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