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


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



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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Will Power says IndyCar field toughest in world: ‘F1’s a joke as far as competition’


DETROIT – With the 2023 Formula One season turning into a Red Bull runaway, Will Power believes the NTT IndyCar Series deserves respect as the world’s most difficult single-seater racing series.

“It’s so tough, an amazing field, the toughest field in the world, and people need to know it, especially compared to Formula One,” the defending IndyCar champion told NBC Sports during a media luncheon a few days ahead of Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. “Formula One’s a joke as far as competition, but not as far as drivers. They have amazing drivers. And I feel sorry for them that they don’t get to experience the satisfaction we do with our racing because that is the top level of open-wheel motorsport.

“I think Formula One would be so much better if they had a formula like IndyCar. I love the technology and the manufacturer side of it. I think that’s awesome. But from a spectator watching, man, how cool would it be if everyone had a Red Bull (car)?”

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It probably would look a lot different than this season, which has been dominated by two-time defending F1 champion Max Verstappen.

The Dutchman won Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix from the pole position by 24 seconds over seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fifth victory in seven races for Verstappen, whose 40 career wins are one shy of tying late three-time champion Aryton Senna.

Along with being a virtual lock to tie Senna’s mark for titles, Verstappen is poised to break his own record for single-season victories (15) that he set last year.

“You simply know Max is going to win every race if something doesn’t go wrong,” Power said. “Imagine being a guy coming out as a rookie, and you probably could win a race. It would be really cool to see. But you know that would never happen with the politics over there.”

Verstappen’s F1 dominance has been a stark contrast to IndyCar, where Josef Newgarden just became the first repeat winner through six races this season with his Indy 500 victory.

Team Penske (with Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Chip Ganassi Racing (with Palou and Marcus Ericsson) and Andretti Autosport (with Kyle Kirkwood) each have visited victory lane in 2023. Arrow McLaren (which has past winners Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist) is certain to join them at some point.

Meanwhile, Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez (two wins) have won every F1 race this season with the two Red Bull cars combining to lead more than 95% of the laps.

The primary differences are in the rulesets for each series.

While F1 teams virtually have complete autonomy to build their high-tech cars from scratch, IndyCar has what is known as a spec series in which the cars have a large degree of standardization.

IndyCar teams all use the Dallara DW12 chassis, which is in its 12th season. The development of the car largely has been maximized, helping put a greater emphasis on driver skill as a differentiator (as well as other human resources such as whip-smart strategists and engineers).

Alex Palou, who will start from the pole position at Detroit, harbors F1 aspirations as a McLaren test driver, but the Spaniard prefers IndyCar for competitiveness because talent can be such a determinant in results.

“Racing-wise, that’s the best you can get,” Palou said a few days before winning the pole for the 107th Indy 500 last month. “That’s pure racing, having chances to win each weekend.”

Of course, F1 is the world’s most popular series, and the 2021 IndyCar champion believes its appeal doesn’t necessarily stem from being competitive.

Though the ’21 championship battle between Hamilton and Verstappen was epic, F1 has grown its audience in recent years with the help of the “Drive To Survive” docuseries on Netflix that has showcased their stars’ personalities along with the cutthroat decisions of its team principals (IndyCar started its own docuseries this year).

“I don’t think the beauty of F1 is the race itself,” Palou said. “I’d say the beauty is more the development that they have and everything around the races, and that they go different places. But when we talk about pure spectacle, you cannot get better than (IndyCar).

“You can feel it as a driver here when you first come and jump in a car. When I was in Dale Coyne (Racing), we got a podium my rookie year. It wasn’t the best team, but we were able to achieve one of the best cars at Road America (where he finished third in 2020). It’s not that I was driving a slow car. I was driving a really fast car. I think we can see that across all the teams and the drivers.”

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who will start second at Detroit, is in his third season of IndyCar after winning three championships in Supercars.

The New Zealander said recently that IndyCar has been “the most enjoyment I’ve ever had in my career. I had a lot of fun in Supercars, but there were still things like different uprights, engines, all that stuff. (IndyCar) is spec. Really the only things you can change are dampers and the engine differences between Honda and Chevy.

“I have a blast,” McLaughlin said. “Trying to extract pace and winning in this series is better than I’ve ever felt ever. I’m surprised by how satisfied it feels to win an IndyCar race. It’s better than how it ever has felt in my career. I’ve always liked winning, but it’s so satisfying to win here. That’s why it’s so cool. There are no bad drivers. You have to have a perfect day.”

Qualifying might be the best example of the series’ competitiveness tightness. The spread for the Fast Six final round of qualifying on Detroit’s new nine-turn, 1.645-mile downtown layout was nearly eight 10ths of a second – which qualifies as an eternity these days.

Last month, the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course produced a spread of 0.2971 seconds from first to sixth – the fourth-closest Fast Six in IndyCar history since the format was adopted in 2008. Three of the seven closest Fast Six fields have happened this season (with the Grand Prix of Long Beach ranking sixth and the Alabama Grand Prix in seventh).

While the technical ingenuity and innovation might be limited when compared to F1, there’s no arguing that more IndyCar drivers and teams have a chance to win.

“The parity’s great, and no one has an advantage, basically,” Power said. “The two engine manufacturers (Honda and Chevrolet) are always flipping back and forth as they develop, but we’re talking like tenths of a second over a lap. There’s not a bad driver in the field, and there are 20 people all capable of being in the Fast Six every week. Maybe more. It’s incredibly competitive. There isn’t a more competitive series in the world. I’m sure of that.

“If you want the ultimate driver’s series, this is it I’m from a big team that would benefit massively from opening the rules up, but I don’t think (IndyCar officials) should. I think this should always be about the team and driver getting the most out of a piece of equipment that everyone has a chance to do so. That’s the ultimate driver series. Who wants to win a championship when you’re just given the best car? It’s just ridiculous.”

Power believes the talented Verstappen still would be the F1 champion if the equipment were spec, but he also thinks there would be more challengers.

“There’s got to be a bunch of those guys that must just be frustrated,” Power said. “Think about Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris, (Fernando) Alonso. Those are some great drivers that don’t get a chance to even win. They’re just extracting the most out of the piece of equipment they have.

“All I can say is if everyone had a Red Bull car, there’s no way that Max would win every race. There are so many guys who would be winning races. It’d just be similar to (IndyCar) and different every week, which it should be that way for the top level of the sport.”