UPDATED — NHRA stunner: Jimmy Prock out as John Force’s crew chief

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UPDATED: Ex-John Force crew chief Jimmy Prock hired by Don Schumacher Racing

 

ORIGINAL STORY

In a stunning move that could potentially threaten his bid for a record-extending 17th NHRA Funny Car championship, John Force announced Wednesday that veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock has resigned, effective immediately.

In an NHRA teleconference Wednesday afternoon where many reporters believed he would announce a new sponsor and new car manufacturer for next season, Force instead said an unnamed rival team owner had reached out to him earlier this week and said he was interested in hiring some of Force’s employees, including Prock.

“I approached (Prock) and he couldn’t give me an answer,” Force said. “I said, ‘Jimmy, I need to know if you’re with me or you’re not.’ We danced around for a few days and finally I said I need to know, that I have sponsor contracts that have been signed or are on the table, selling this powerhouse race team of four teams. You and (fellow crew chief) Mike Neff lead my charge. I need to know where I stand.

“Jimmy Prock said, ‘I’m probably going to leave at the end of the year. Basically, I need a change.’ I know he had been talking with others (team owners).

“He turned in a resignation yesterday for the end of the year. I met with my brain trust and told Jimmy Prock I would accept his resignation, but I was accepting it now. I’ll take it right now.

“As of right now, Jimmy Prock is no longer employed by John Force Racing. I know it’s in the middle of the Countdown (to the Championship) and you think I’m committing suicide, but I’m not.”

Force is currently second in the Funny Car standings, 36 points behind series leader Matt Hagan. Two races remain this season, in Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif.

Force admitted Prock’s decision to leave caught him by surprise and resulted in the decision to let Prock leave now rather than after the season, regardless of how that might affect Force’s championship bid this season or sponsorship contracts that have already been signed for 2015 or are close to being signed.

“I race from the heart,” Force said. “I’m about principle, camaraderie (and) loyalty. If a man’s heart is not here with me, his job is to protect his family, he has to do what he has to do and John Force has to do what he has to do.”

And perhaps the biggest thing Force has to do is rally his team and go forward with his championship hopes, although it likely will cause some scrambling and greater interaction and use of employees, including those who may work for Force’s two racing daughters, Brittany and Courtney, and racing son-in-law Robert Hight.

“I am going after this championship and I am going after it with the people that will stay with me for the long haul. That is what I owe my sponsors and fans,” Force said. “As much as I want No. 17, not even for a championship will I race with somebody that I know is leaving me.

“I am a big boy and I’m going to put this team back together. I am going to fight, win or lose. If we get No. 17, great, but if we don’t I know I will have gone down with people that believe in me, that trust in me and that will stand by me, not just in good times but in bad times. I am not just racing for this championship; I am racing for the next 10 years.”

Prock has been with John Force Racing for nearly 16 years. He previously had been crew chief for Hight, but came over in the middle of the 2013 season to become Force’s crew chief, leading him the remainder of that season to three wins in the Countdown for the Championship and ultimately Force’s 16th championship.

One thing Force likely will not do is bring back former crew chief Austin Coil. Together, the pair won 15 of Force’s 16 championships. Coil retired after Force’s 2010 title and a team source said Coil has no interest in returning to the sport.

That means Force will likely have long-time employees John Medlen, the organization’s director of technology and safety, and Dean Antonelli (who works on Brittany Force’s Top Fuel dragster).

Medlen was crew chief when Tony Pedregon won the Funny Car championship in 2003 while driving for John Force Racing.

“I’ve got about a week,” Force said. ”I’m addressing the employees (later today). If they’re going to stay, I’ll know that, I’ll have a commitment that they’ll stay through the Countdown. If not, I’ve got a week to build a complete race team.”

Force added later, “This is the hardest call I’ve ever made. I have to go on, he (Prock) needs to go on.”

Force said he would reveal more about his new sponsors and car manufacturer at the Las Vegas race next weekend and at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show the following week, also in Las Vegas.

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Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.