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NHRA: John Force ‘putting band back together’ — Jimmy Prock returns as crew chief

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John Force isn’t in contention for any Grammys, but that’s not keeping the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion from “putting the band back together” in hopes of making some great music on the drag strip in 2017.

Force announced Friday that former crew chief Jimmy Prock, who led Force to his most recent championship in 2013, has returned to the John Force Racing fold after spending the last two seasons with Don Schumacher Racing as crew chief for “Fast Jack” Beckman.

Prock, who previously spent 14 years with JFR, will return to his former role as the crew chief for the 2017 season for Force’s PEAK Chevrolet Camaro SS, with Chris Cunningham serving as co-crew chief.

“I’m putting the band back together,” John Force said. “Jimmy Prock is returning home, and Chris Cunningham is coming with him. This is a great opportunity to grow the company as NHRA continues to grow, too. To bring talents like Jimmy and Cunningham will make John Force Racing stronger. And it will make the PEAK Chevrolet a NHRA Mello Yello championship contender.”

Prock earned 39 victories as a crew chief in his previous stint with JFR: 27 with Robert Hight, eight with Gary Densham and four with John Force.

“I’m very excited,” Prock said. “I worked here for a long time, and we’re excited to be back working with the JFR brain trust. Plus, with all the of Chevrolet’s support and engineering, this is a whole new adventure. We’re working hard to try to get a championship and win as many races as we can.”

As for the rest of JFR’s four-car lineup for 2017:

* Mike Neff will return as crew chief for Robert Hight’s Funny Car, with Jon Schaffer and Jason McCulloch as co-crew chiefs. Schaffer spent the last two seasons as John Force’s crew chief.

* Danny Hood returns as crew chief, as well as Ronnie Thompson as co-crew chief for Courtney Force’s Funny Car team.

* Brian Husen remains as crew chief, with 11-time championship team owner/tuner Alan Johnson as consultant for Top Fuel driver Brittany Force.

“A good football team builds its strength on many levels: from the head coach to coordinators to players,” Force said. “You need depth at every level, and these moves makes us deeper and stronger.

“Every one of my crew chiefs and co-crew chiefs can run a successful team, and to have them all under one roof just makes us better as a whole and as individual teams.”

John Force also announced that Jimmy Prock’s son Austin has joined the organization in its driver development program. The younger Prock, a 21-year-old third-generation racer, has spent the last few years racing sprint cars and midgets, including winning the 2014 STARS national midget championship.

“I’ve watched Jimmy’s sons grow up,” John Force said. “It just fits for John Force Racing. The opportunity to bring him into drag racing is great.

“He’s talented, he’s personable, good-looking, lightweight like a jockey and loves auto racing. I know he can drive a race car. It’s in his DNA, in his blood.”

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Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.