Austin Prock has a wild story to tell about the first time he drove a Top Fuel dragster.
The tale begins two weeks prior to the start of Prock’s rookie NHRA Camping World Drag Racing season in 2019 when he secured last-minute funding for his John Force Racing dragster. With a green light from sponsors and the team, Prock traveled to Arizona for the open test days — scheduled Thursday to Saturday — at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park to log his first laps in the 11,000-horsepower machine.
There was just one problem.
His rig didn’t arrive in Arizona until late Sunday afternoon, after the test was considered over.
“(The truck drivers) just drove 20-some hours, they pulled the brakes and were like, “Man, let’s go to the hotel, I’m tired,’” Prock said. “My dad (Jimmy Prock) walks over and he goes, ‘Hotel? Let’s run this thing today.’”
With help from the other JFR teams present in Phoenix, the dragster was pieced together as the sun dipped below the horizon. When Prock finally pulled up to the starting line, it was somewhat dark, as track officials refused to turn the lights on.
“We go to make a run and the clutch malfunctioned and it smoked the tires right off the starting line. About 14-foot header flames, big smoke cloud,” Prock said.
The team went back to the pits and rebuilt the entire clutch overnight, which took until about 3 a.m. the next morning.
“We had Monday and Tuesday to make a run, but Tuesday was 100 percent chance of rain, and we had to be in Pomona by Wednesday,” Prock recalled.
At that point, he still “had never gone down the track in a Top Fuel dragster. I only had a Funny Car license.”
On Monday, the team made four runs — just enough for Prock to earn his Top Fuel license. Never mind the fact that Prock never made it to the finish line; he shut off the engine at 600- or 800-feet every lap.
With the hope things would eventually get better, Prock made the trek to Pomona, Calif., to make his professional drag racing debut.
“My first-ever round of competition, I won in a pedalfest, so that kind of set the tone,” Prock said.
The fourth-generation drag racer made his way to the quarterfinal elimination round at the Winternationals in Pomona, but was defeated by Top Fuel veteran Mike Salinas.
However, Prock’s rookie year involved more positive results than negative, both on and off the track.
The then 24-year-old scored his first Top Fuel victory at Washington’s Pacific Raceways in early August. His consistency allowed him to earn a berth in the Countdown to the Championship, the series’ six-race playoff stretch.
And lastly, when all was said and done, Prock was awarded rookie-of-the-year honors.
“I don’t think it could’ve gone much better,” Prock said. “I had over 43 people work on my car that year, we switched crew chiefs halfway through the season — nothing was easy about it. But everybody kept working hard and we stayed focused and prevailed.”
Watch the full interview with NHRA’s Austin Prock below as he discusses if his dream to be a Top Fuel driver is everything he wanted it to be.