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Rookie driver believes he can win at Bristol

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 5, 2019 at 9:07 PM

BRISTOL — Austin Prock has little experience, but plenty of confidence heading into the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals on June 14-16 at Bristol Dragway.

In his first full season drag racing and competing at the highest level in Top Fuel, the 23-year-old driver for John Force Racing believes he has the tools to leave Bristol a winner.

“We’re here to win. Just because I’m a rookie with a new team and a new crew chief, it doesn’t hold us back,” Prock said. “We have great equipment, great sponsors and great teachers. We have every piece of the puzzle. I expect to win a handful of races this year because we have the brain trust and knowledge to do so. I want to win rookie of the year and be in the hunt for the championship.”

It’s an ambitious goal considering the Indiana driver, currently 10th in points, has limited time in a dragster.

His background is more in oval track racing, starting out at 10 years old in quarter midgets before moving up to Midgets and Sprint Cars. He raced for three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, earning 27 wins and the 2014 STARS National Midget title.

“Racing the open-wheel cars, especially on dirt, you get that car feel when the tire spins or hooks up. You learn to drive sideways and keep it under control,” Prock said. “I’ve done a pretty good job transitioning that into drag racing. My first ever round of competition, I won in a pedal-fest where the tires shook. I had never felt that before, but it was instinct where I’ve raced those years in circle track and was able to recover the car.”

He has qualified for NHRA licenses to run both Top Fuel and Funny Car. He has proven to be a fast learner with his best performance, a top speed of 334.15 mph.

Prock is a fourth-generation racer, whose great-grandfather Jimmy raced Midgets and Indy Cars. His grandfather Tom was a pioneering drag racer in the Funny Car ranks.

Austin’s father, Jimmy Prock, serves as crew chief on the Funny Car driven by two-time champ Robert Hight. Another drag racing legend, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme helped Austin acquire sponsorship for his current ride.

“It’s a dream come true. I wanted to be a professional drag racer as long as I can remember,” he said. “To be able to do it for John Force and having Don Prudhomme by your side too, not many people can say that. To have teammates like John Force, Brittany Force and Robert Hight to bounce ideas off of, that makes my learning curve easier.”

Through the first nine races of this season, Prock has four round victories including one over Brittany Force. He believes the performance will soon be on a greater upswing with a recent crew chief switch which brought veteran Mike Green to his car.

“We’re making progress every weekend,” Prock said. “Mike Green, who won two Top Fuel championships with Tony Schumacher, has come in to sort our program out. We made some good strides and some good runs last weekend. I’m leading the class off the starting line now with the best reaction time, and I know Mike Green is going to get this thing running up the race track. When that happens, we’re going to be hard to beat.”

THUNDER VALLEY LEGEND

Ted Jones, a longtime drag racing executive, former manager of Bristol Dragway and president of Masters Entertainment Group, was introduced as the newest Legend of Thunder Valley at the Wednesday press conference.

Jones, 75, owned four race tracks in the Midwest before former Bristol Dragway owner and International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) founder Larry Carrier offered him the opportunity to come to Tennessee and manage the sanctioning body.

“This is a great honor because I spent so much of my life, my career here,” Jones said. “I called Larry to try to get an IHRA national event at Muncie (Indiana), which was my best track. I brought television, a crash crew and other things like that and he saw how organized I was and how everything went. That’s when he said that I needed to come down work to him with IHRA.”

During his time with the IHRA, Jones developed many new classes of competition. Some of his experimental classes at Bristol Dragway are now in the NHRA including Pro Mod, Top Sportsman and Top Dragster. Another class, Mountain Motor Pro Stock, will run an exhibition at next week’s Thunder Valley Nationals.

For many, Jones is best known for his television work, hired by ESPN to produce drag racing content through his Masters Entertainment Group, that is still based in Bristol. His company produced the show, “Inside Drag Racing” and provided coverage of all NHRA Pro Mod Series races for several seasons. He explained how the television work came about.

“IHRA needed a lot of TV coverage and I went to ESPN which was new and had about 10 million homes,” Jones said. “I convinced them that drag racing would be cool. The first show they did, they had a lot of mistakes because the announcers were NASCAR announcers and didn’t know as much about drag racing.

“They hired me to be a consulting producer and to keep them from embarrassing mistakes. When I got out of the IHRA, I started the TV company mostly to do drag racing.”

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