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Published 5/13/24

Austin Prock is Part of a Funny Car Family



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Over much of this past offseason, Austin Prock had no idea what his 2024 racing schedule would look like. The young, talented John Force Racing (JFR) driver had just come off a year in which he’d scored a victory in his Chevrolet Top Fuel dragster and finished eighth in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series standings.

Prock is behind the wheel of a John Force Racing (KFR) Camaro SS Funny Car in 2024.

However, he found himself in an unenviable position when there was no funding to keep his car on track.


Still, Prock had been in the position before.


The same thing happened in 2021 when the world was finding its footing again as the Covid pandemic began to ease. Yet when the NHRA season got underway, Prock’s dragster remained parked. That year, he joined his dad, the legendary crew chief Jimmy, to handle supercharger duties on three-time champion Robert Hight’s Camaro SS Funny Car in the JFR camp.


Perhaps he would do the same this season. Then seemingly out of nowhere this past January, JFR announced that Prock was indeed returning to his father’s program. As the driver.


Hight needed to step out of the car for health reasons and the logical choice was to find his replacement in-house.


“I just kind of fell into a pot of gold essentially,” Prock says. “You hate to see it happen that way, but it’s a great opportunity for me and it came about as quick as everybody else heard about it. I had no idea any of it was coming.”

Members of Prock’s team service the car. He is also hands-on packing parachutes and mixing fuel.

Prock, 28, had originally joined JFR planning to enter the Funny Car ranks. He got licensed in the category in 2018 after having grown up primarily racing Midgets and Sprint Cars on ovals. Yet his career path shifted and he climbed aboard a Top Fuel dragster as a teammate to Brittany Force for the 2019 campaign. He found plenty of success in the car but always hoped to one day transition to the Funny Car world.


He made the most of the opportunity quickly, winning the PRO Superstar Shootout at Florida’s Bradenton Motorsports Park in his first Funny Car start in February. He then went to the final round of the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in March and won the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird Motorsports Park near Phoenix in April. Through five events thus far in the season, the Team Chevy driver holds the Funny Car points lead.


Prock believes the chemistry with his family is part of the success. In addition to Jimmy Prock serving as the crew chief, Austin’s brother Thomas is the assistant crew chief on the car. However, the team has always been one of the strongest in the pits with Hight having won 65 races in his illustrious career.


“This car, regardless of me in the seat or not, was going to contend for wins,” Prock says. “My dad and brother built the setup last year and fine-tuned it all year long. When we dropped the gate in Bradenton, they were 100 steps ahead of where they were the previous year. They've just been tickling this thing and learning and just attacking. It’s all showing.”

Prock is living out a dream racing a Funny Car with his family.

Jimmy Prock’s aggressive setups have earned the nickname “Prock Rockets'' and Thomas is following in his footsteps. He comes from an engineering background and is two years older than Austin. The two know each other intimately, with Thomas having served as Austin’s crew chief when he was 12 years and his brother was 10. They learned to work together while their father was often away racing himself.


“It’s helpful because we know each other so well,” Thomas Prock says. “There's not much of a communication barrier or anything like that. We can be honest with each other and help each other out … When you know somebody's background and where they come from there's a level of trust.”


For Austin, racing with his family has been a lifelong goal.


“We all have that same drive for success, so that part’s nice, and it’s so comforting for me that [on the starting line] my dad sets the barrel valve, knocks on the body and that's the last guy I see,” he says. “Listening to him and my brother work together, that's cool. I’m just really enjoying it.”


While some families thrive working together, others simply cannot. That goes for any industry. Prock admits that he and his dad were both a bit apprehensive about working together for the first time in 2021 in such a high-pressure environment. They found they didn’t bicker or argue or have any disagreements that might make holidays awkward.


“We all respect each other's position; I'm not up there telling my dad and brother how to tune the thing and they're not down here telling me how to drive it,” Prock says. “You build a race team like a business; you hire specific people for specific positions, and you let them do their job. That's how my dad built this team.”

Prock talks with his JFR teammate Brittany Force before a run.

It’s fitting that the Procks work together as a family under the John Force Racing umbrella. John Force – the team owner, 16-time Funny Car champion and winningest driver in NHRA history – has fielded Funny Cars for daughters Ashley and Courtney over the years. Daughter Brittany remains on tour in the Top Fuel category with two championships to her credit. Force’s son-in-law and Ashley’s husband Danny Hood is also one of his team’s crew chiefs. His oldest daughter, Autumn, works on the business behind the scenes as well.


Those are just a few examples of the many family connections inside the organization.


Prock is more than 45 years younger than his boss and teammate, but the two share a close relationship.


“He always gives me great advice and he's a great motivator, he makes you hungry and I want to do a good job because he's given me such a great opportunity,” Prock says. “I don't want to fail him. Racing with him, having him as a boss, as a driving coach and a life coach has been really great. He’s taught me a lot in my career.”


Those lessons extend onto the track as well, where Prock notes Force is extremely methodical on the starting line. That makes beating him a unique challenge. Prock is one of the youngest drivers in the Funny Car category and has looked up to many of its household names for years. Now he is learning their tendencies in an effort to beat them round after round, week after week.


Prock’s youth serves him well, not just with his blistering reaction times, but simply with the perspective he can provide and the value he can offer to sponsors as they try to reach a young demographic.

Driving a Funny Car presents a challenge unlike any other in racing.

Of course, perhaps the biggest challenge of all in the Funny Car category is driving the cars themselves. While Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters both utilize a supercharged, nitromethane-powered engine capable of 11,000 horsepower, and each reaches speeds greater than 330 mph on a 1,000-foot track in under four seconds, that’s where most of the similarities end. Most notably, Funny Cars feature a significantly shorter wheelbase, a body over the driver that changes both the view and aerodynamics, and the engine sits in front of the man or woman inside.


As a result, drivers need to constantly wrestle the cars, whereas Prock says the Top Fuel machines utilize more of a “point-and-shoot” driving style. He also thinks his experience in open-wheel cars translates well to a Funny Car and its seat-of-the-pants feel.


“There's a few people that dare to get in these things, but I love it, I feel oddly comfortable in it,” Prock says.


He also explains that Funny Cars are perhaps the only race vehicle where the driver sits all the way back in the car, nearly between the huge rear tires. Thus, the driver is essentially the pendulum and can immediately feel when the tires get out of shape and how much steering input is required.

The adrenaline is flowing as Prock prepares to strap in.

Prock is still unsure of what the future holds, but for now, he and his family are enjoying the ride – literally and figuratively.


“You always want to see your kids do good and this is a really good opportunity for him,” Jimmy Prock says. “We're happy to have him.”


Before the age of 30, Austin Prock’s career has been a rollercoaster, based solely on luck and happenstance. But it’s made him stronger and even more appreciative of his time behind the wheel. Plus, he notes, everything happens for a reason.


In this case, it’s allowed him to win races with his family.


“I get to race with all of them,” he says. “It’s really a dream come true.”


Be sure to keep watching The BLOCK for more on Chevrolet Performance and all motorsports disciplines.