Prock calls his time out of the seat 'a blessing in disguise'
Tuning guru Rahn Tobler comes out of retirement to join veteran crew chief Joe Barlam
Diversified businessman Frank Tiegs is providing funding for Prock once again
Austin Prock said last week that he’s so thrilled to be campaigning a Top Fuel dragster again, with Montana Brand and Rocky Mountain Twist as his primary sponsor, he was “like, shaking right now, just talking about it.”
Prock, the 2019 NHRA rookie of the year, will compete full time for John Force Racing (JFR), thanks to Frank Tiegs increasing his investment in the Camping World Drag Racing Series’ Top Fuel class. Tiegs also owns Flav-R-Pac Fruits and Vegetables. His companies will rotate primary sponsorship of Brittany Force’s JFR dragster, as well.
Tuning Prock’s dragster, the fourth in the JFR arsenal will be veteran Joe Barlam, who guided Force’s top-five finish last season, and multiple-time championship crew chief Rahn Tobler, who had announced his retirement last January.
Tobler, most recently, tuned Ron Capps' Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car.
JFR team owner John Force said that after he had to park Prock’s dragster, “I fought to get it back, because I promised the Prock family. And Frank Tiegs made that possible.”
Grateful is the perfect word for Prock, who at age 26 is the youngest in the Top Fuel class (last year's youngest in class was Justin Ashley, 27, who is eight months older).
“I can’t wait to stand on the gas again," Prock said. "It’s been way too long. Two years was a long time to sit around and wonder if I was ever going to do it again. Now I’m back.
“This is my lifelong dream. I got to live out my dream at 23 years old in 2019, and when that got taken away from me, it made me depressed, honestly. It was tough going out to the racetrack and watching all my peers go and do what I love to do. So I’m happy to be back.”
In 2021, Prock raced at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals and made a cameo appearance on track at the June NHRA race at Norwalk, Ohio (where he advanced to the semifinals). Otherwise, he spent his time out of the cockpit working with elite crew-chief dad Jimmy Prock on Robert Hight’s Funny Car.
“I worked with my dad, which was really cool. It’s something that not many people get the opportunity to do. Sometimes it can be hard working with family. We didn’t argue once,” Austin Prock said. “We had a great year together, and we both learned about the superchargers. I improved them quite a bit from the program prior. I actually just got done building four superchargers for my own race car, and I just dyno’ed ’em all today. It was a good relief to see improvement.
“Can’t wait to get to the Phoenix test and start burning some nitro again,” he said, referring to the Feb. 10-12 Professional Racing Organization-sponsored Nitro Spring Testing near Phoenix that will precede the 2022 season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Feb. 17-20.
Prock said working as a mechanic again “obviously wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I did enjoy it. Honestly, it turned out to be a great learning curve for me. And when you’re out there as a driver or ex-driver or whatever and you’re busting your ass with all the crew members, they really appreciate that, and they see that. And I think that’s helped build my team and get good employees. They know I want to work just as hard as they do every day.
“So it was a blessing in disguise, I believe. I just can’t wait to be back. We’re building beautiful race cars. I put my blood, sweat, and tears into these cars, making them as nice as possible and as light as possible. I just can’t wait to strap into that thing again. I’ll finally be back at home.”
And it might seem that way, literally. His father still will be in charge of Hight’s title chase. And Austin Prock will be working with brothers Thomas and Sam. They’ll be his clutch specialists. “And,” he said, “Rahn Tobler’s a family friend of ours. And Joe Barlam, he’s a great friend of mine.
“There’ll be a lot of good energy going around. The race car can feel that. And I think that’s going to lead us to some success. All of us racers are a little bit superstitious. But if you get a group together that has good energy and you’re all on the same page, I believe that you perform a lot better. You all have the same mindset, and you work better together. With that mindset, you don’t make as many mistakes, and that’s exactly what we’re putting together.”
He said he sees the acquisition of Tobler as a bit of a coup.
“I was pushing so hard to get Rahn Tobler. I thought he’d be a good pairing with Joe Barlam. They’ll be a good yin and yang,” Prock said. “Barlam’s a fairly aggressive tuner, and Rahn’s a very smart racer when it comes down to Sunday. His record speaks from himself. So they’re going to be a great pairing. I can’t believe that I have that caliber of crew chiefs going into my second full season, especially for Rahn coming out of retirement to come be a part of my team and our operation. So I’m really looking forward to it.”
Moreover, the 2019 Seattle winner has high expectations for this season and predicted his car will be in the championship conversation.
“I think our car will be able to race with the best of ’em. We have every piece of the puzzle to go out there and succeed. There’s no doubt in my mind we can go out and contend for a championship. We’ve got a great group of crew members put together. I can’t wait to get back into that competition mindset and go out there and (drive) to the best of my ability. And we’ll see how the cards fall,” Prock said.
When he rolls into the gates at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park at Chandler, Ariz., for the preseason test sessions, it’ll be on far different terms than in his rookie year. For the second straight time, Prock has found out late in the offseason that he will have a ride. But this time he had about a month’s notice. In 2019, he had only a few days to prepare.
“This is the most prepared we’re going into a season—and we still got a late start," Prock said. "We only found out we’re racing a couple of Mondays ago. To get the crew members and the team we have on such late notice, that says as lot. The way I look at is the first time we went racing was a thrash to get it together and we still had success. Now we’re the most prepared we’ve ever been, and I think it’s going to show in our performance.”