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NHRA: Age means little for John Force, Austin Prock in season opener

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Even though Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and “Fast Jack” Beckman (Funny Car) were the winners in this past Sunday’s final round of the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals, it was also a very Force-ful weekend for another team.

John Force Racing saw team patriarch and 16-time Funny Car champion John Force reach the finals against Beckman, while teammate Austin Prock, beginning his sophomore season on the NHRA circuit, also reached the final round vs. Kalitta in Top Fuel.

Force (3.897 seconds at 332.34 mph) was just a tick slower than the winning Beckman (3.837 seconds at 333.33 mph).

It was the 256th time in the 70-year-old Force’s career that he has reached the final round in NHRA Funny Car competition, including winning 151 of those times.

“It was a really good weekend,” Force said.  “I didn’t win but I’ve got a real hot rod with my son-in-law Daniel Hood and Ronnie Thompson (both co-crew chiefs) and Tim Fabrisi. “Boy, to come out of the box and go to the finals. I have to congratulate Beckman, he did a great job up there.”

The 24-year-old Prock, meanwhile, is coming off winning NHRA’s rookie of the year award last season. After a strong first three rounds of eliminations Sunday, his dragster overpowered the racetrack and lost traction, allowing Kalitta to run virtually uncontested on a pass of 330.23 mph at 3.698 seconds.

MORE: Exclusive: Steve Torrence reveals why he missed NHRA season opener

Kalitta’s win marked the first time in NHRA history that a driver has won the season opener three straight years. Still, Prock has nothing to be ashamed about.

“This Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team had a really good day and it was a great way to start off the season,” Prock said. “Both of our John Force Racing dragsters were running on mean.

“I had a lot of fun because this thing is hauling ass and I am having a lot of fun driving it. Its reacting quick and allowing me to leave the starting line good so, I’m looking forward to (the second race of the season next weekend at) Phoenix.”

Austin Prock reached the finals in Top Fuel this past Sunday at the NHRA season-opening Winternationals. Photo: Ron Lewis.

Prock’s Top Fuel teammate and John’s daughter Brittany Force was No. 1 qualifier for the event but lost to Kalitta in the semifinals.

“The first race of the season and this Monster Energy team along with Flav-R-Pac team is off to an incredible start with a No. 1 qualifier,” Brittany Force said. “It gave this whole team the confidence going into race day.

“We came out and went to the semifinals. We had a good day and made some decent runs. We won some rounds and I am very happy with that. I wish we could have gotten the job all the way done and taken it to the finals, but we still had our other Chevy teammates in the running with John Force in Funny Car and Austin Prock in the Top Fuel final. It was a good start to the season.”

The last member of the John Force Racing quartet, three-time and defending Funny Car champ and team president Robert Hight, lost in the quarterfinals to Alexis DeJoria – returning to racing after a two-year hiatus – after his car lost traction leaving the starting line.

“It wasn’t the day we wanted but we’re not going to dwell on it,” Hight said. “The second round we overpowered the track and had tire smoke right at the start, and I had to lift. We’ll just chalk it up to a bad day and get things done in Phoenix.”

The second race of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event tour is Feb. 21-23 at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Arizona.

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Robert Wickens shares more positive strides toward recovery in new video

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Robert Wickens has made massive steps since sustaining a spinal cord injury in an Aug. 19, 2018 crash at Pocono Raceway.

Since the accident, Wickens publicly has shared his recovery, often uploading videos of his physical rehabilitation on Twitter.

In his most recent update on Wednesday, Wickens shared a video of him walking on a treadmill. Fellow NTT IndyCar Series competitor Tony Kannan, who competes in triathlons during his spare time, also was visible running on the treadmill behind Wickens.

“When I am @TonyKannan [sic] age, I hope to run as fast as him…” Wickens tweeted. “Today was a good day!”

Wickens, who will turn 31 on March 13, first made his return to the IndyCar paddock in last year’s season opener in St. Petersburg. Since then, he’s made a return to the driver’s seat, piloting a specialized Acura NSX prior to the start of last year’s IndyCar race in his hometown of Toronto.

In September, Wickens fulfilled a vow to his wife Karli, by standing with her during their wedding. The new husband and wife also danced together during their reception.

Should Wickens fully recover to resume racing, Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt has stated that the team’s No. 6 entry will be available for him to drive. Wickens continues to remain as a “driver coach and consultant” for the team.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter