NHRA: Austin Prock joins John Force Racing lineup in Top Fuel dragster

Photo courtesy Austin Prock official Facebook page
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Rather than wait until some point later in the season like it originally planned, John Force Racing has moved up its timeline to add a new driver and car to its lineup.

23-year-old Austin Prock, who was originally expected to make his NHRA debut in a Funny Car for JFR, will now get his first start for the organization driving a 11,000-horsepower, 330-plus mph Top Fuel dragster in this weekend’s season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

Son of Jimmy Prock, crew chief for JFR’s Robert Hight Funny Car, Austin Prock will join JFR’s other Top Fuel driver, 2017 champion Brittany Force, daughter of team owner John Force.

That means for the first time in team history, JFR will have two Top Fuel dragsters alongside the two Funny Cars of 16-time champ John Force and two-time champ Hight.

From a numeric standpoint, Prock essentially replaces Courtney Force in the JFR lineup. Courtney Force stepped away from the sport two weeks ago after seven seasons as a Funny Car driver.

Prock’s dragster will be sponsored by Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist in a deal that originated when legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme introduced John Force to Montana Brand owner Frank Tiegs.

“This all came together rather quickly,” John Force said Wednesday. “Who would have thought after all these years of racing against Prudhomme, all these years of being in the other lane, that we’d be working together on the same team?”

Added Prudhomme, “It’s an honor to be involved with John Force Racing. John and I have been friends for many years. I had an opportunity to help bring in a sponsorship for Austin and I was happy to do it.”

Austin Prock will have former John Force co-crew chiefs Jon Schaffer and Ronnie Thompson as his co-crew chiefs for the 2019 season.

“I’m excited to head out to Pomona for my first national event,” Prock said. “This is what I’ve been working towards for years now. I know it took a lot of hard work from everyone at John Force Racing to be able to make this happen.”

While Prock is new behind the wheel for JFR, he’s no stranger to the organization. He previously worked on the mechanical side of both Courtney Force’s and Brittany Force’s race cars.

Before joining JFR, Prock was an outstanding sprint and midget car driver. In 2012 he was named National Pavement Midget Rookie of the Year. A year later he was awarded the Bob Tattersall Hard Charger of the Year. In 2014, his first year racing a complete schedule, Prock was the STARS National Pavement Midget Champion after winning four races.

Following his championship year, Prock entered into the world of Dirt Sprint Cars and picked up a win in his seventh start.

Prock finished his circle track career having entered 139 races with 27 wins and 84 top five finishes.

Now it’s on to the 1,000-foot straight-line for Prock, who recently earned his NHRA Top Fuel driver’s license and tested at last weekend’s NHRA preseason test in Chandler, Arizona.

“I’m ready to get my professional drag racing career started,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work but I’m confident. I’ve got John Force, Don Prudhomme, and all of JFR in my corner, that believe in me.

“I get to be out with my family, continue the family trade and represent a legendary team. What more could I ask for? … I’m going to have fun while I’m out here.”

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”