Photo courtesy Austin Prock official Facebook page

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

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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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Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”