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Austin Prock Retains No. 1 Qualifier at Gatornationals

John Force Racing’s Austin Prock continued his impressive debut weekend as an NHRA Funny Car driver, earning No. 1 qualifier honors heading into Sunday’s eliminations of the 55th Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

“I’m very excited,” said Prock, whose Friday afternoon qualifying effort of 3.820 seconds at 334.65 mph in the Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car held up through Saturday’s qualifying to keep him No. 1. “I mean, I couldn’t really have done much better this weekend so far.”

The 28-year-old Prock spent the previous three seasons driving a Top Fuel dragster for JFR. When three-time NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight stepped aside indefinitely in January due to personal medical reasons, team owner John Force didn’t have far to look for a replacement driver, as Prock has also held a Funny Car competitor’s license since 2018.

Prock made two qualifying runs on Friday. After earning and then having the No. 1 spot taken away from him by Bob Tasca III in the second qualifying run, Prock roared back almost immediately to regain the top position from Tasca moments later.

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That same run by Prock was the 10th quickest in NHRA Funny Car history and also set a track record. He then held on to No. 1 when Saturday’s second Funny Car qualifying session of the day was cancelled due to rain.

“(A fourth and final qualifying run) would have helped,” Prock said. “It would have been nice to get another run. I only have a handful of runs down the racetrack in this car, so every time I can get in the seat, I will continue to improve. I would have liked to get another run, but I’m happy with this No. 1 qualifier for sure.”

Prock will face John Smith in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

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The Lansing, Mich. native is driving Hight’s race car in his absence, but has a strong team around him, led by his father and Hight’s longtime crew chief, Jimmy Prock, and assistant crew chief Thomas Prock, who is Austin’s brother. 

“I really think that speaks volumes on this team,” Austin Prock said. “I’m the only new part of the equation. We know this car can win races, we know it can run low E.T. and I’m just sitting there hanging on and trying to do the best I can and essentially just not screw it up because I know if I do a good enough job, we can get the job done.”

In other action Saturday for JFR, Prock’s teammate, two-time champion Brittany Force, managed to reach the finals of the three-round Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout exhibition event.

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Force (3.730 seconds at 328.70 mph) lost a close battle in the final round of the Callout to Antron Brown (3.709 seconds at 332.43 mph).

As Force approached the finish line, the motor in her Monster Energy Chevrolet Top Fuel Dragster erupted into a large fireball. While she was uninjured in the incident, it definitely rattled the 12-year Top Fuel veteran.

“It was going,” Force said of her dragster. “I could see the finish line, I could see Antron next to me and it just blew up. It was an explosion like I’ve never felt before. It rocked me in my seat. I could see the glow of the fire around me. It was ugly.”

Force qualified 11th and will face No. 6 qualifier Billy Torrence in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations.

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Lastly, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion and JFR team owner John Force, driver of the PEAK Antifreeze & Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, was ninth in Funny Car qualifying (3.920 seconds at 324.67 mph) and will face No. 8 qualifier Cruz Pedregon in the first round.

The Gatornationals eliminations will be televised on Sunday with live coverage from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET, and continuing coverage at 9 p.m. ET on FS1.

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This story was originally published on March 10, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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