3-Time NHRA Funny Car Champ Robert Hight Taking Medical Leave from Racing

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Hight Taking Medical Leave from John Force RacingMARC GEWERTZ
  • Robert Hight is stepping aside with 65 victories and both ends of the Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Funny Car class’ performance records (for elapsed time and speed).

  • Austin Prock, 28, already is licensed in both nitro categories and will have chance to work with tuner dad Jimmy Prock and crew member brother Thomas Prock as Hight's replacement.

  • ‘It’s a big hit to the team,’ Prock says.

In a news bombshell Tuesday from John Force Racing, three-time NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight, 54, has announced he will take a hiatus at the start of this season to address undisclosed medical concerns and 28-year-old Austin Prock will switch from the Top Fuel class to Funny Car in his place, at least temporarily.


So when the 2024 Mission Foods Drag Racing Series season begins with the March 7-10 Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., Prock will be driving Hight’s Cornwell Tools/Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro. His father, Jimmy Prock, will be his crew chief, and his brother, Thomas Prock, will be assistant crew chief.

Hight will remain in his role as president of John Force Racing and said he will resume competition as soon as his health permits. Hight did not give a timetable for his return.

The unexpected change of plans comes on the heels of surprise postseason news that key marketing partner Frank Tiegs (Flav-R-Pak, Montana Brand, Rocky Mountain Twist) is withdrawing his financial support. That left Prock without funding for his Top Fuel ride and Force’s daughter and two-time Top Fuel champion Brittany Force without sponsorship for approximately half a season, as John Force is scrambling for full funding for his race cars.

austin prock nhra john force racing
Austin Prock finished seventh in the NHRA Top Fuel Dragster standings in 2023.NHRA/National Dragster

Prock said Hight broke the news to him: “I found out on Thursday. Total shock. Total surprise. Yeah, it was a huge surprise, actually. There was plans of not running our dragster this year, and it looked like I was going to be sidelined again, and then everything turned around.

“It's a little bittersweet,” he said. “I hate to see Robert have to step away for a little bit, but it's always been a dream of mine to drive a Funny Car, especially for my dad. And to top it off, the assistant crew chief being my brother Thomas. So it’ll be an all-Prock affair, and hopefully we can do good for all the fans and sponsors that we have.”

Jimmy Prock, he said, “is excited (although) it’s been bittersweet for all of us. All of us are really close with Robert. He's really like part of the family. I've known Robert pretty much my whole life, and my dad's raced with Robert his whole career pretty much, other than a year or so here or there. So it's a big hit to the team. You hate to see your driver have to step away, but we're all excited, racing with your family. That's really special. And hopefully we can all do a good job together.”

Brother Sam is general manager at John Force Racing, and Austin Prock said, “We have a machine shop and fab shop and parts room and you name it. We pretty much have it in that building, and he helps manage all that. So “It's really special being able to work with your family and all share the same passion,” he said. Even mother Jill often packs the parachutes before a pass.

Because Hight is coming off his fifth overall and second straight runner-up finish, he was especially eager to begin another campaign. Throughout the years, immediately after a race, whatever the outcome, Hight has said he wishes the next event were the next day. He raced the final three events of 2018 with a broken collarbone because he was in the thick of the title chase. So this setback was another difficult reality for him.

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Robert Hight has 65 career. victories in the NHRA Funny Car class.NHRA/National Dragster

“I feel bad for Robert. I hope that he can get all his medical issues sorted out, and hopefully I can go do a good job for him,” Prock said. “He was actually the one that told me what was going to go on, and it was tough. I've lost my ride before, and this is the first time that he's going to have to step away from his race car.

"Just like all of us, it's our lives. We live, eat, and sleep this sport, and it was tough for him. That's a big decision to make. That's for Robert to tell. But I was completely shocked. I had no idea what was going on, and all of a sudden you go from standing on the sidelines to getting a dream opportunity. I never planned for it to be this way, but it's still a dream of mine and it's an opportunity that I got to go out and seek and try and do the best I can.”

He said the Cornwell Tools/Auto Club Camaro “in my opinion, and probably in a lot of people's opinion, it's been arguably the best race car probably in the last 10 years. And I definitely got big shoes to fill, filling in for Robert Hight.”

Facing a sidelining for the third time since 2019, Prock said his career has “definitely been a little bit of an up and down, but that's drag racing for you. It's very unpredictable, whether it's on the track or off the track. You really never know what's going to happen next.”

NHRA rules dictate that if a driver has a substitute and then he or she returns to action, the substitute’s points stay with the driver, not the car or the team. Prock said he isn’t sure what might transpire if Hight is physically able to come back before the end of the season.

“I think that's just a wait-and-see type of thing, but I'm really not sure. As far as I know, I'll be driving the car this year,” Prock said.

Hight has taken a break after 65 victories, third-most in Funny Car history (behind boss John Force’s 155 and Ron Capps’ 75) and tied with Pro Stock ace Jeg Coughlin for ninth in NHRA history. He owns the quickest elapsed time (3.793 seconds) and fastest speed (339.87 mph) in class record books. Hight set both of those in 2017 on his way to his second championship.

He remains the only racer ever to start the Countdown from last place in the class and earn the championship. Hight did that to claim his first title, in 2009. His most recent, in 2019, came as he defeated Jack Beckman by a mere eight points. But at least two of Hight’s five runner-up finishes were close calls—he closed just three points behind Capps in 2022, and he was second to Tony Pedregon by 19 points in 2007.

In his second-place performance this past season, Hight posted four victories in six final rounds and led the field seven times. In 417 starts, he has 84 top qualifiers (sixth-best in the sport’s history) and ran his all-time race-day record to 626-346. Among his achievements is a 279-race qualifying streak.

Prock is moving out of the Top Fuel class with a best finish of third place in 2022. Last season he was 1-1 in final rounds and had two No. 1 qualifying positions. In 70 Top Fuel appearances, he was 4-4 in eight finals and compiled a 70-66 mark in eliminations.

He won the quickest-ever side-by-side Top Fuel race over Brittany Force in the 2022 NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif. He ran 3.642 seconds, she 3.676.

Both he and his car have been dubbed “The Prock Rocket,” and the 2019 NHRA Rookie of the Year earned his first trophy that summer at Seattle the same day boss John Force scored his milestone 150th victory.

Prock is a fourth-generation racer who got his start in circle-track racing at age 10 and early in his career got the chance to work out of Tony Stewart’s shop. A winner by age 12, Prock was named National Pavement Midget Rookie of the Year. The next season, he was presented the Bob Tattersall Hard Charger of the Year.

In 2014, in his first year racing a complete schedule, Prock was the STARS National Pavement Midget Champion in a campaign with four victories. Then he jumped to the world of dirt sprint cars and won in his seventh start. He finished his circle-track career with 27 wins and 84 top-five finishes in 139 races. He started his drag-racing career on Courtney Force’s Funny Car team, then was the supercharger specialist for her sister Brittany Force’s car.

As for Tiegs’ departure, John Force said it was “nothin’ we did wrong or he did wrong. Just stopped.”

Force said the Washington State-based Tiegs, who also put his entire classic-car collection on the block at the upcoming Barrett-Jackson Auction, explained that he wanted to spend more time with his family. Tiegs entered the drag-racing scene as Prock’s Top Fuel sponsor, then branched out to fund some races for Brittany Force and secure title-sponsor status for the NHRA Northwest Nationals at Seattle’s Pacific Raceways.