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Force Beats Prock in Classic All-JFR Final at Epping

Gary Nastase/Auto Imagery photo

John Force continued to turn back time Sunday at New England Dragway, driving his PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS past teammate and Funny Car point leader Austin Prock in an all-John Force Racing final to win the 11th NHRA New England Nationals.

Force won in 4.081 seconds at 319.29 miles per hour. Prock, the 28-year-old Funny Car rookie, was a close second in 4.096 seconds at 316.38 mph in a AAA Chevy he inherited when three-time World Champion Robert Hight opted out of the cockpit this year for health reasons.

“Daniel Hood and the boys gave me a good hot rod and, for once, I didn’t mess it up,” said the exhausted, but excited winner. “I love this race. It’s like the old match race days. It’s an old school track and the people here are unbelievable. There were even fans from the old days in Canada where I won my first race. They come in here early in the morning and stay late and they love it, just like I do.”

Force, who had won 48 NHRA tour events and four championships before his young teammate was even born, won for the 157th time in his remarkable career and moved up to No. 2 in points seven races into his 48th professional season.

Sunday’s win, his third at New England Dragway, assured the 27th multi-win season of his remarkable career and sends him into this week’s 23rd Super Grip Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn., just 22 points behind Prock, who’s car will adorn Cornwell colors. It’s the first time JFR drivers have been 1-2 in points since Oct. 20, 2019 at the conclusion of the Texas Fall Nationals in Dallas.

Racing in the 51st all-JFR final in tour history but the first since this event in 2021, Force improved his final round record against eight different teammates to 23-19 and evened his overall record with Prock at 1-1. Before Sunday, the driver of the “Prock Rocket” had been one of seven drivers the 16-time champion never had beaten.

The third JFR team member, Brittany Force, shared in the post-race celebration, but not in the success. The two-time Top Fuel World Champion used a .061 of a second reaction time for an early lead in her first round showdown with eight-time champion and eventual Sunday runner-up Tony Schumacher, but things quickly deteriorated on a hot and challenging racetrack. Although both cars lost traction, Schumacher was able to limp across the line in 4.170 seconds for the win.

Brittany’s Monster Energy dragster coasted across in 4.314 seconds at 242.10 mph, far off the 3.715 at a track record-setting 335.57 mph speed that carried her to the No. 3 qualifying position. 

Despite the loss, crew chief David Grubnic believes the team made progress toward re-establishing itself as a title contender.

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“Not the weekend we were looking for, by any means,” he said. “Our qualifying performance was decent but it’s still not where it needs to be. We’re still sorting out some issues and getting the car back into sync with the engine power levels and clutch, but we believe we’re heading in the right direction. So, hopefully, within the next two or three races, you’ll see this team back on top. That is our goal; that is our plan; that is what we’re going to strive for.”

As for the driver, she acknowledged a similar degree of frustration, coupled with a like belief that things are on the upswing.

“This Monster Energy team is leaving Epping frustrated, but we are still determined,” said the 16-time tour winner. “Right now, we are focusing on the little bits of progress we made this weekend (and) I like that we are heading straight to Bristol which keeps our motivation high. There is no time in between and we are right back on a racetrack figuring things out.”

Meanwhile, her dad, who has been inducted into every major and minor motorsports Hall of Fame on the continent including the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, won for the second time this season after prevailing earlier in a Lucas Oil Winternationals that began in Pomona, Calif., before being completed in Phoenix.  

By any measure, it was a dominating performance by the JFR Chevrolets which were quickest in every condition – cool, hot, sunlight, moonlight and everything in between. Prock was quickest in the Friday night “hero” qualifying session in which he coaxed the blue-and-white AAA Chevy through the course in 3.837 seconds, just .015 of a second off the track record set by the same Auto Club team, but with Hight at the controls, in 2017. He also posted top speed of the weekend at 336.23 mph, equaling the fastest speed he ever recorded during his three plus years driving a JFR Top Fuel dragster.

Force, who tuned up for his Sunday success by winning Saturday’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, was second quickest of the entire weekend at 3.865 seconds, but it was the race day performance of the two JFR Chevys that will be a major topic of conversation.

The only driver other than Prock and Force to break the 4.00 second barrier in Sunday’s challenging conditions was Chad Green and his opening round 3.976 wasn’t even good enough for lane choice in a round two match with the Auto Club Chevy, which had been six-thousandths quicker (3.970) in a first round win over Mike Smith’s Dodge.  

Prock sent Green packing with a time of 3.983 coupled to a stellar .044 of a second reaction time and then threw a 3.993 at Daniel Wilkerson in the semifinals.  

“The car ran outstanding all weekend,” Prock said. “My dad (Jimmy) and my brother Thomas and the rest of the crew did a helluva job and the biggest thing is I finally got a hold of the Christmas Tree (starting system). .44 shallow (an .044 reaction time while shallow staged) in a Funny Car, that’s really good and I had to do some driving. It was a fun day, a big day for John Force Racing, AAA, PEAK and Chevrolet.”

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As for Force, his opening round 3.967 stood as the quickest in eliminations. He followed with a 4.059 against Blake Alexander and improved to 3.994 to get past J.R. Todd that set up the third all-JFR final in 11 years at Epping. Force and daughter Courtney raced in the very first final in 2013 and Force beat Hight to win in 2021.

This story was originally published on June 3, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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