Photo: Gary Nastase/Auto Imagery

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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Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

‘THEY’VE STUCK BEHIND ME’: Kyle Larson comments on future, Outlaws plans

“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.