Any questions about Austin Prock's ability to make the transition from the Top Fuel class to Funny car were answered on Saturday night in Bradenton.
Prock, who is pinch-hitting for three-time NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight to start the season, scored a win worth $250,000 to John Force Racing in the finals of the SCAG Power Equipment PRO Superstar Shootout drag racing event at Bradenton (Fla.) Motorsports Park.
Prock was joined on the victory stand at the big-money event by defending NHRA Top Fuel king Doug Kalitta and by six-time and defending Pro Stock champion Erica Enders.
The event also paid $250,000 to Kalitta. Enders earned $125,000 for her win on Saturday.
The event was put on by the Professional Racers Owners Organization and was not sanctioned by the NHRA.
Prock defeated defending NHRA Funny Car champion Matt Hagan in the final of the eight-driver bracket. Prock's winning pass was 3.845-seconds at 332.42 mph in his Cornwell Tools Chevy Camaro SS. Hagan turned in a pass of 3.872 at 329.75.
Prock finished seventh in the NHRA Top Fuel driver standings last season. Sponsorship issues are keeping him out of a Top Fuel ride at least to start the 2024 campaign.
"I can't even put it into words. It's like I said, it still doesn't even feel real,” said Prock. “This team is just so exceptional and I was just happy to not mess it up for them. This is a championship-caliber team and a race-winning team, and I just had to hang on to the wheel and make sure I got the data for them and we did that today.
"This win is huge. I had a quote before we came in here that if I ended up winning my first ever race and it was the PRO Superstar Shootout it would be legendary and I guess we did that today.”
Prock defeated Alexis DeJoria in the quarterfinals and then beat JFR boss John Force in the semifinals.
As for Kalitta, he posted a 3.706 pass at 325.14 mph, while final-round opponent Clay Millican slowed to a 4.22 at 196.39. Kalitta beat Justin Ashley and Leah Pruett on his way to the final.
“The first thing that I thought of when we won this thing was how proud Don Schumacher would be of the PRO group putting this together,” said Kalitta. “We've never really seen this kind of money and the whole deal was it was pretty cool. I know a lot of people worked real hard to make this happen.”
Kalitta’s crew chief and PRO president, Alan Johnson hopes Saturday's win will be a springboard to good things in the upcoming NHRA season.
“It's really great for Doug but it's also great for these crew guys who worked all winter long to maintain this thing because there's some things we had to change,” said Johnson. “We're going to a different chassis. There are things we had to change to be able to come out at the first event and run well and win. It is just a testament to how good a job they did over the winter.”
On the Pro Stock side, Enders knocked off Dave Connolly in the final of the 16-driver Pro Stock bracket with a 6.531 run at 210.05 mph in her JHG/SCAG/Melling Camaro. Connolly recorded a 6.577 at 208.81 to finish second.
“Dave (Connolly) and I have a lot of history and that final round, I'd be lying if I told you my heart rate wasn't a little bit higher than normal,” said Enders. “I called my dad before that final round, and I'm like, ‘Alright, help me with my with my neuro program.’ I had to disregard the emotion behind it because I just want to knock their teeth out, but I just have to go out there and do what we do best.
"I know I have the best guys in the business standing behind me and it's a group that I can trust and I cannot emphasize that enough. That means the world to me, but that pressure right there, I’d put it up against a world championship because of who was in the other lane.”
Enders, who qualified No. 1, defeated teammates David Cuadra, Aaron Stanfield, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the first three rounds.Top Fuel vs. Funny Car Shootout
Drivers who didn’t qualify for the eight-driver Top Fuel and Funny Car elimination raced in a unique Top Fuel vs. Funny Car Shootout with the Don Schumacher Nitro Superstar Award and $10,000. The format paired up Top Fuel dragsters versus Funny Cars in the first round, with the quickest of each returning for the final round. A two-tenths staggered tree in favor of the Funny Cars evened the playing field.
Top Fuel Vs. Funy Car Shootout
Recent first-time Funny Car winner Chad Green beat four-time Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence in that final.
“I did something today I definitely thought I would never do, and that's race against a Top Fuel dragster,” Green said. “And on top of that, when I heard I was gonna be doing this last night when we got bumped out, I was like, ‘Oh, I just I hope I get Steve Torrence.’
"That's what I went home telling all my crew last night because he's my buddy, and just to get a chance to race against a Steve Torrence, right? Or Brittany [Force], for sure. I was like, ‘If I don't get Steve, I want Brittany.’ I went up to Steve after the first round and said I'll probably never get a chance to do this again, and then, boom, we get to race each other in the final. So I got to beat him two times. I think got a holeshot both times. I'm just really proud of that.”
For complete weekend results from Bradenton, check outwww.DragRaceCentral.com.