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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Graham Rahal’s ‘Weighty Issue’

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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses lasers to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around. There was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“It takes a long time, I think,” Rahal said. “It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is.”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

“It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy.

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (crap), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches, and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”