Austin Prock living up to his ‘Prock Rocket’ nickname in first season in Funny Car

Source: Gary Nastase / Auto Imagery

Austin Prock has been one of the most pleasant surprises thus far in the 2024 NHRA season.

After four seasons of driving a Top Fuel dragster for John Force Racing, including compiling four wins and eight final round appearances, Prock was shifted by team owner John Force to pilot the Cornwell Tools/AAA Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car for this season.

Prock has long aspired to drive a Funny Car and the situation couldn’t be better for the Grand Rapids, Mich. native. His crew chief and assistant crew chief are his father Jimmy and brother Thomas, respectively, and the nicknamed “Prock Rocket” has been nothing short of outstanding behind the wheel.

Through the first five races of the 20-race NHRA season, the 28-year-old Prock:

*  Won his first-ever start in a Funny Car, capturing a preseason exhibition event in Bradenton, Fla.

* Reached the final round of his first NHRA event piloting a Funny Car in the season-opening race at Gainesville, Florida.

* Earned his first Funny Car “Wally” winner’s trophy just three races into his new career, capturing the Arizona Nationals victory last month. In so doing, Prock became only the 19th driver in NHRA history to earn victories in the sport’s top two nitro classes, namely, Top Fuel and Funny Car.

* His win in Arizona was made all the more sweeter as that same weekend as his boss, Force, also won the Funny Car crown for the Winternationals, which were rescheduled/relocated to Phoenix from its traditional home in Pomona, Calif., due to the final round there being rained out.

* He’s been the No. 1 Funny Car qualifier in three of the first five races thus far.

* He’s also reached the finals in three of those five events, including runner-up showings at both Gainesville and Las Vegas, and the aforementioned win in Phoenix.

* And to top things off, Prock has been the Funny Car points leader following the last two races.

That’s obviously not bad for a guy who’s considered a rookie once again this year in a new racing class.

When asked if he’s surprised at the great achievements he’s amassed in such a short period of time in his initial Funny Car season, Prock demurs.

“It still really hasn’t hit me, I’m like living a fairy tale right now,” Prock said. “But I think it’s a good thing that it hasn’t hit me. We just need to keep our head down and keep focused and keep doing the job we’re doing because it’s been working.

“So don’t get too high, don’t get too low, but we’ve definitely got to celebrate the year we’ve had so far.”

Prock, who is a trained chef off the track, has definitely been doing a lot of cooking on-track, as well. His aggressive style, cat-like reflexes at the starting line and a never-give-up attitude have helped him become the biggest story in Funny Car in the first quarter of the season.

“I’m finally getting comfortable in the race car enough to where I feel like I can go up there and attack,” Prock said. “That’s definitely a confidence booster for myself, and if we get all our ducks lined up in a row and I can drive like that, this category might be in for a world of hurt. That’s obviously our goal every weekend. We’ve just got to keep picking away at it.

“Yes, I’m still a rookie and I’m still learning and I only have ambitions to get better and better every weekend. People may not see it from the outside, but personally I feel like I’m getting better and better, getting more comfortable and that’s a good sign. So it’s a long year ahead and we’re just going to attack it one weekend at a time.”

Prock has gone from Florida to California, Phoenix to Las Vegas, Charlotte and will be in Chicago in two weeks.

“Every track I’ve been to so far has been totally different driving this Funny Car,” Prock said. “There are so many different things going on, like the altitude and things like that. For example, it’s a huge change for the crew chiefs. In Vegas, we’re halfway to Denver (altitude-wise), whereas in Charlotte we’re pretty close to sea level.

“I’m looking forward to Chicago. I think we’ll pick up right where we’ve been and we’ll be just fine.”

Speaking of Chicago, Prock will travel to the Windy City entering his third consecutive race as the Funny Car points leader in his trusty Chevrolet.

“I don’t think I’ve ever held the points lead this long, so that’s something to be proud about,” Prock said. “This team is just doing a great job. When we falter, we just come back and attack and everything seems to work out.

“You’re only as good as your last run and we go back and prove that. It’s been a great year.”

Prock concedes that one of the biggest keys to his success this season has been working with his father and brother, making it a true family affair.

“You know, work and family are two separate things, but it sure is fun racing with my family, it’s been a blast,” Prock said. “I’ve been oddly comfortable in this race car right from the very beginning.

“I don’t know if it’s just because I’m meant to be in a Funny Car or if it’s because my dad’s giving me a head nod and rolling off after he’s setting the barrel valve. So I’m really, really blessed to race with my dad and brother and this entire team. I’ve known a lot of the guys for a long time and we’re all kind of like brothers. So it’s pretty cool to be in this pit.”

Prock was originally slated to be solely a crew member on the Cornwell team this season until three-time NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight yielded his seat in mid-January, prompting Force to ask Prock to take over driving duties for the Cornwell car.

But Prock has not forgotten his crew member training over the years. He’s one of only a handful of drivers in the nitro ranks who still works on his car when he’s not driving it.

Doing so not only keeps Prock on top of all the workings of his Funny Car, but also keeps the very humble individual grounded, so to speak. And even with his early success this season, Prock is the first to admit he still has a lot to learn in driving a Funny Car.

“Nobody really understands unless you’re sitting behind the wheel,” he said. “These things are just so tough to drive. They’re beasts and every lap they’re doing something different. It’s been like that everywhere I’ve gone so far. It’s just been a different challenge.

“But it’s fun. I love the challenge, I love racing with this team, I love racing with Cornwell Tools, and I hope we can keep it going.”

Keeping it going is at the top of Prock’s to-do list.

“Yes, I do believe we can keep it going, I don’t see why not,” Prock said. “You know, this team is just honed in right now. And our package is working. We’ve just got to keep making smart decisions. And I’ve got to keep making smart decisions driving this thing and we’ll see our cards fall.

“But like I’ve said all year, if everybody does their best over here, we’re going to be hard to beat every weekend.”


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