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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Michelin appoints new North American motorsports director

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Michelin North America has named Tony Ménard as director of motorsports, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Ménard is succeeding Chris Baker, who has held the role for the past eight years. Baker is scheduled to retire in March of 2020, ending a lengthy career that began with Michelin in 1982.

“Chris has played a vital role in the growth and success of our motorsports program, both for BFGoodrich and Michelin in North America,” said Matthieu Bonardel, global director for Michelin Group’s motorsports business entity. “His passion and understanding for motorsport fueled growth in the organization and established credibility in the market. Chris’s leadership propelled the Group, which experienced tremendous success with race wins, and advanced the way the brands leveraged our motorsports participation to benefit the overall business.”

A native of Le Mans, France, Ménard has served in several positions during his 30-year career with Michelin, most recently serving global business leader for Michelin brand in the passenger-vehicle category. Ménard has worked closely with the North American motorsports team since early July in preparation for the transition.

Baker oversaw the development of the motorsports function for Michelin and BFGoodrich Tires brands as a single business unit in North America. He also directed the expansion of Michelin’s involvement in IMSA sports-car racing as the “Official Tire of IMSA” and BFGoodrich Tires partnership with SCORE International Racing as the “Official Tire of SCORE.”

During Baker’s tenure, BFGoodrich achieved an unprecedented 650 off-road class wins, including five overall victories in the Baja 1000. The brand also demonstrated performance in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing, Ultra4 King of Hammers, and provided strong support of grass roots racing across North America with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and Super Production Challenge in Canada.

“I am incredibly grateful to Michelin for the opportunities and support throughout my career, and to all the folks that I have worked with and continue to work with,” Baker said. “I want to thank all the teams, partners, officials and fans who have made our relationships so successful and are essential to the brands’ successes. I look forward to witnessing the continued success of our motorsports programs under Tony’s leadership, as well as the contributions of the Michelin Motorsport North America staff and volunteers, who are completely dedicated and invested in representing our brands in competition.”