There’s no question that Austin Prock has always had great skill as an NHRA driver.

Still, it was hard to imagine this unfolding.

Prock, who never raced a Funny Car full-time until this season, was thrust into that role when three-time world champion driver Robert Hight was sidelined with a medical condition before the season opener.

All Prock has done since is qualify No. 1 six times and win a pair of races.

Prock, who pilots the AAA/Cornwell Tools Camaro for John Force Racing, claimed his latest victory Sunday at the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn. Prock clocked a 3.989-second time at 312.42 mph to defeat J.R. Todd’s 4.022, 313.66.

“Outstanding job by my team this weekend. Every time we went up there, the thing was a car to contend with and we ended up sweeping it. Super proud of that,” Prock said. “None of these guys are easy anymore. They're so tough, and we ended up getting it done. We had to race Matt Hagan in the semifinals. He is absolutely brutal. You got to bring your A-game.

“My dad (Jimmy Prock, his crew chief), and Dickie Venables (Hagan’s crew chief), they always try and one up each other. They're always going out there, dropping bombs on each other, and we were victorious this time. And then ended up racing J.R. You never know with that DHL car. It can throw some serious punches, and J.R.'s definitely one of the best on the starting line. Ended up getting by him and walking out of here with some gold, so super proud of that.”

Prock’s other win this season came in Phoenix, and he has three runner-up finishes. He’s also been the No. 1 qualifier in Gainesville, Fla., Phoenix, Las Vegas, Chicago, Epping, N.H., and Bristol.

This “really all goes back to the team. I got thrown into a car that's been arguably the best in the past decade, and these guys have been together so long, and that's something that I never had in Top Fuel,” Prock said. “We were always switching crew chiefs, we were always switching crew members, and I finally got put into a car that had some longevity with the team and crew.  They threw me in there, and that's a lot of pressure on myself for sure. Definitely don't want to let those guys down. I see how hard they work and I'm in there working with them in the shop. Yeah, definitely proud of that. Never want to let those guys down and we definitely didn't. We're all going to have some fun tonight.”

Prock arrived in Bristol first in the standings, 22 points in front of legendary boss John Force. With Force taking a semifinal loss, the gap between him and Prock is even larger.

From 2019-2023, Prock drove a Top Fuel dragster for John Force Racing, finishing a career-best third in the points standings in 2022. He collected four national-event wins and three No. 1 qualifiers.

“The Funny Car all day long,” said Prock about his favorite to drive. “The Funny Car is such a challenge to drive. You have the same amount of horsepower and you're missing 175 inches of wheelbase. That's insane. This thing is rowdy. Every track you go to, they're handling totally different. You feel every nuance in the racetrack, whether it's on the inside, outside, hidden bumps. You definitely got to be on the wheel all day.

“Every time you get in this thing, as soon as you think you got it figured out, you don't. You'll be two inches from the wall. I've experienced that a handful of times. I've definitely made my fair share of mistakes, but we've been able to get it done when it counts. It's been a great year, man. I'm really living my dream. I wanted to drive one of these Funny Cars my entire life. My grandfather (Tom Prock) drove them back into the '70s, and he is so happy seeing us all work together and me behind the wheel. I think it's making him young again, so I can't wait to get out of here and give him a ring.”




Austin, who was the 2019 NHRA Rookie of the Year, has enjoyed competing in both nitro classes.

“I mean, (Top Fuel) is a similar scenario. I got thrown to the wolves in that as well,” Prock said. “I made three laps down a dragstrip in a Top Fuel car before I went to Pomona (Calif.), and then ended up winning my first-ever round of competition in a pedal fest. Ended up getting a win with John's 150th in Seattle. That was a very, very special year, and definitely had to put a lot of hard work into that. I'm happy with my career. I wouldn't change a thing.

“John (Force) has blessed me with some seriously great opportunities and that's something I'll be thankful for forever. And he's given me another awesome opportunity with all our partners, Cornwell Tools. We got Flav-R-Pac back, Team Hendrick coming on this year. Mr. H. (Rick Hendrick), he loves winners, and we got it done. So, for everyone – Monster Energy, Pete, everybody taking a chance on me – we can't do it without them. And they all have a say in what goes on here at John Force Racing. So, for me to be behind the wheel is really something cool.”

Although Austin always wanted to pilot a nitro Funny Car, he was unsure what his learning curve would be.

“I knew the car would be (good). I didn't really know what I was getting into, to be honest,” Austin said. “I hadn't driven one in six years, so I ended up licensing in a nitro Funny Car first, before the Top Fuel car, and it was a lot of thinking, a lot of nerves, lot of pressure coming into this season. I had four weeks to stew on it. Had no idea that I was even going to be driving this thing. And I was just telling myself, ‘You got to believe in yourself, and you need to be there,’ because I know the race car's going to be there.

“I've watched my dad my entire life and I've watched this team for a very long time, and I know the potential of it. And there was no way I was going to be the weak link. I've been studying, I've been doing my homework. I've been more focused than I ever have been, and more comfortable in this race car. I don't know if it's because I'm meant to be in a Funny Car or if it's because my dad knocks on the hood and walks off. I think that definitely gives me a boost of confidence.”





This season, Prock has been red-hot, but he always keeps his feet on the ground and doesn’t get lost in reading the headlines.

“We're already, what, seven or eight races into the season. We're close to halfway already, and we've just been so successful,” he said. “It's been really impressive. Every time this thing drags up to the starting line, it is on fire. That definitely gives me confidence as a race car driver, but I think we just got to keep doing the thing. I feel like we're not getting too up, too low. We're just maintaining and just putting in the work, and listening to my brother and my dad, and Nate Hildahl on the radio, when they're inspecting the track is just … it's like music to your ears. They're so confident and they read it so well. They're checking it every second of the way, and we're making adjustments to it. My dad's one of those guys that's in the box at the very last minute. And all those little things really add up and I think that speaks for our success.”

Working with a world championship tuner who also happens to be his father is something Austin welcomes.

“Our relationship is awesome. We've really worked together since I started racing when I was 10 years old, me and my brother especially. We were on the road together by ourselves while my dad was out here winning races,” Austin said. “I've been working with them, essentially, since I was 10 years old, so it's 18, coming on 19 years. So, our work ethic is very similar.

“I hate when the thing jumps outside on me, on the burnout, because when that happens, you're warming up the surface of the racetrack that you want to launch in, and temperature makes less grip, and it makes the track greasy. When things like that happen, I try and do the best, absolutely, I can. And I do take full responsibility. Because, by the end of the year, I want to be able to, when that thing drops holes, I want to be able to correct it perfectly and still make a beautiful burnout. But sometimes it's just really tough. I'm only eight races into my Funny Car career and definitely still have a bunch to learn. We've had some success, but I ain't done yet.

“Yeah, there is nothing easy about this category. They are vicious machines, and they are so much fun to drive. Like I've said, all weekend, I'm living my dream, and these are definitely where I'm meant to be.”