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John Force Racing: ‘It’s Good to Be Back Home Again in Pomona’

If John Force Racing ever needed a perfect song theme for this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, it might be one of the late John Denver’s biggest hits: “(It’s Good To Be) Back Home Again!”

No location on the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series means more to team patriarch John Force – as well as fellow drivers Brittany Force and Austin Prock – as the dragstrip on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Fairplex.

“Pomona is personal to me,” said Force, the winningest driver in drag racing history with 16 NHRA Funny Car championships and 155 national event wins. “My love for Pomona goes back to the ‘60s, when I was driving a truck. I went out and looked through the fence to watch the starting line and watch the people racing.

“Then in 1974-75, I started running the local tracks. But Pomona was the big ball field. That was our Dodger Stadium, that’s where we wanted to be. And now here I am. So coming home to it, there’s a lot of memories, I won a lot of races and won championships. You walked away from some bad crashes, but it’s just personal. I’m looking for another win and I’m going to try to get it done here. Every race counts, but I’m excited to be back home and be racing with family.”

Ironically, Pomona initially wasn’t very welcoming to Force: he failed to qualify in three of his first five races at the famed quarter-mile in the late ‘70s. But once he figured out the tricky track, Force would become its winningest driver there, with 16 overall victories (7 in the Winternationals, 8 in the World Finals and one in the NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals in 2001).

Collectively, JFR has an outstanding winning record in the Winternationals (all in Funny Car): John Force (7 wins), Robert Hight (5), Tony Pedregon (2) and Courtney Force (1).

Extrapolated even more, JFR drivers have won 30 races at Pomona between the winter and fall events, with 29 coming in either Top Fuel or Funny Car. The only non-nitro win there came from JFR vice president Ashley Force Hood, driving a Top Alcohol Dragster in 2004.

The Winternationals is the second race on the 20-race NHRA national event schedule. JFR got off to a promising start in the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., two weeks ago when Prock was No. 1 qualifier and finished runner-up in Funny Car, defeating John Force along the way in the quarterfinals.

And while Brittany Force lost in the first round of Top Fuel eliminations, she took some consolation in finishing runner-up in the Pep Boys Top Fuel NHRA All-Star Callout exhibition event on Saturday, March 9.

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As for their respective liveries this weekend, fans will see John Force in the PEAK Antifreeze & Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, Brittany Force will pilot the Mark Christopher Auto Center Chevrolet/Monster Energy Top Fuel Dragster, and Austin Prock will drive the Auto Club of Southern California/Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car.

Here’s a preview of all three JFR drivers heading into Pomona:

Austin Prock comes into Pomona with the greatest momentum of the three JFR drivers after the season opener. In addition to being No. 1 qualifier and finishing runner-up at Gainesville, Prock also won a special exhibition race in Bradenton, Fla., last month in his first-ever start in a Funny Car.

Sitting a close No. 2 in the Funny Car standings, the Lansing, Mich., native almost has to pinch himself to make sure he’s not dreaming.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Prock said. “It’s one of those deals where things are just happening and so much is coming at me at once right now. I feel like I’m just kind of holding on to the wheel, but I’m definitely enjoying it.”

Prock is filling in for three-time NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight, who is on a temporary leave of absence from racing for personal medical reasons.

Prock has a strong supporting cast that led Hight to a runner-up finish in Funny Car last season, including his father Jimmy Prock (Hight’s long-time crew chief), and brother Thomas Prock (Hight’s assistant crew chief).

“It still feels surreal, being able to drive this Funny Car and race with my family,” Prock said. “I’m looking forward to Pomona. I’ve always loved that racetrack. It’s always been my favorite one to hit on the map.”

In seven career appearances at Pomona (all in a dragster), Prock has reached the final round of the Winternationals three times (2020, 2022 and 2023) and also won the 2022 season-ending World Finals race.

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“We’ve had some success there,” Prock said. “So hopefully that can carry over to Funny Car and maybe we’ll roll out of there with my first Funny Car Wally (trophy).”

Prock’s car has an outstanding legacy: Hight still holds both ends of the NHRA Funny Car records for elapsed time (3.793 seconds on 8/18/2017 at Brainerd, Minn.) and speed (339.87 mph on 7/29/2017 at Sonoma, Calif.).

Prock knows he has some big shoes to fill.

“Any time I get in a race car, I just want to do the absolute best job I can,” he said. “And more or less, it’s not about proving myself to everyone else, it’s proving myself to myself. I want to be able to get in the car and know I can do a good job and get the result I want.”

Prock will also be taking part in Saturday’s race-within-a-race, the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge. Introduced last season, it pits semifinalists from the previous race against each other in a rematch during Saturday’s two qualifying sessions. Prock qualified because he finished runner-up in the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals two weeks ago in Gainesville, Fla. Points are awarded that are then added to a driver’s points total heading into the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

John Force has been a dynamo in the Winternationals. In 45 previous starts, Force has seven wins, has been No. 1 qualifier 10 times and owns a career Winternationals round-by-round record of 66-36.

Overall, between the Winternationals and World Finals, Force has won a record 140 rounds of racing at In-N-Out Pomona Dragstrip. To put that in perspective, Prock has won 73 rounds in all the events he’s run in his entire NHRA pro career to date.

And yet the soon-to-be 75-year-old Force is bound and determined to win more races en route to a 17th Funny Car championship.

“We’re in the championship run for the title and I want No. 17,” Force said. “I may not yell and scream it, I’ve won so many, but I want to keep winning.”

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Force comes into Pomona ranked seventh in the NHRA Funny Car standings after Gainesville.

“I want to win with (crew chief) Daniel Hood and with my team,” Force said. “(Pomona is) just the place to be. We’ll kick off the second race of the season and we’ll come back the end of the year. And hopefully, if not me, one of us will run for the title, Brittany or Prock. That’s what we do.”

Brittany Force hopes a return to one of her favorite tracks will help power her and her dragster into the winner’s circle.

“There’s nothing like Pomona,” the younger Force said. “Not only is it my home track, the support that comes when racing at Pomona is like no other event we have. You’re surrounded by family and friends and the support system that pours in makes the weekend very special.

“In the past I’ve had teachers show up that I haven’t seen since high school, or just random people that I haven’t seen in a long time, who knew the drag races were in town, came out and then found me signing autographs at the ropes and said ‘hi.’ Being reunited with people from my past is awesome.”

Currently 14th in the Top Fuel standings after a tough first round loss at Gainesville, Force is determined to bounce back in a big way.

“We need to see better results on race day, and in order to do that we need to make more consistent runs, we need to qualify top five and go some rounds on race day,” Force said. “We’d like to win this thing. It’s Pomona and I’ve won there in the past. This David Grubnic (crew chief) team set the national mph record back in 2022 at 338.94 mph. So we have been successful on this track. We just need to kind of regroup and get back on track.”

Force remains the national record holder in NHRA Top Fuel competition in both elapsed time (3.623 seconds set on 9/14/2019 in Reading, Pa.) and speed (338.94, set on 11/11/2022 in Pomona).

“I’ve raced Super Comp there, A Fuel, Top Fuel, won two Top Fuel championships there,” Force said of Pomona. “There’s so many memories built around there during my career and then before my career as a kid. It just has this very home comfort feeling that I love about it.”

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The 2024 Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals runs from March 21-24 at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip in Pomona, Calif.

FS1 will televise Qualifying Show No. 1 on Saturday, March 23, from 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET. Qualifying Show No. 2 is Sunday, March 24, from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET, and the Finals will also air on Sunday, March 24, from 7 to 10 p.m. ET.

This story was originally published on March 20, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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