Photo Source: Gary Nastase / Auto Imagery

BRISTOL, Tenn. (June 7, 2024) – Austin Prock channeled the skills he developed driving midgets and sprint cars to get his Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS over Bristol Dragway’s infamous “bump” in a weekend-best 3.958 seconds and, as a result, will start Sunday’s 23rd Super Grip Thunder Valley Nationals from an increasingly familiar position – as the No. 1 qualifier.

It’s the sixth time in eight races that the 28-year-old Funny Car rookie has claimed the top spot while filling in for three-time World Champion and John Force Racing president Robert Hight and he’ll get an early start in his bid for his first Bristol win with the NHRA’s decision to move the first round of Sunday eliminations to 10 a.m., local time, because of the threat of inclement weather.

After facing Mike Smith in the first round of last week’s NHRA New England Nationals at Epping, N.H., Prock will line up against the same car for Sunday’s opener but with younger brother John Smith at the controls of veteran Paul Smith’s Dodge.

“We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year long,” Prock said, “making smart decisions and I’ve got to drive well. We’ve been doing a good job of that again this weekend (and) I’m super proud of the Cornwell Tools Chevy Camaro team. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Get a little extra coffee buzz in the morning.”

Prock’s overall performance this season, which includes victories in the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Phoenix and in the inaugural PRO Superstar Shootout in Bradenton, Fla., compelled the team’s namesake to tout him as the face of the future at JFR.

“I’m really speechless over a comment like that,” Prock said. “Even to be in the position I’m in at John Force Racing is a dream come true. I’ve been working on becoming a professional race car driver since I was about ten years old and I’ve been very blessed to race under the people I have.

“I love racing here at JFR,” Prock said, “and for (Force) to say that, you know, it makes me feel good about myself. I feel like all the hard work that I’ve put in over the years is paying off and I just want to do a great job. He took a huge risk on me, hiring me back in 2017. I had never been down the dragstrip. All I had done was circle track stuff.

“But he said, ‘you wanna come race one of these, kid?’ and you’re not gonna say no when the G.O.A.T. asks you a question like that. I’ve just been working really hard to try to make him proud.”

While was locking up another No. 1 start in a car prepared by his dad Jimmy and maintained by a crew anchored by his brother Thomas, Force and his PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant team will attempt to win at Bristol for the sixth time, and for the fifth time in the Thunder Valley Nationals.

Qualified ninth and facing a potential second round meeting with his young protégé, the 157-time tour winner managed to move up two positions by posting the quickest time of the final qualifying session at 4.033 seconds. Because of that improvement, if the JFR teammates do race each other again on Sunday, it will be in the final round.

First, though, the 16-time series Champion will have to get past a hungry Daniel Wilkerson in round one. 

“We’ve got good hot rods right now,” Force said of the JFR Camaros. “Prock has been hot all year; my car (has been) fast, but it didn’t have consistency. Now it does and the people that make it happen are Dan Hood, Chris Cunningham, Tim Fabrisi and the young kids on my team. We all share the technology (and) our teamwork is what makes it work. I’m really proud of the job that Brittany and Prock and their teams are doing – and even this old man is getting into the game.”

Brittany Force and her Monster Energy Chevrolet team will start Sunday from the No. 15 position which earned the two-time Top Fuel World Champion a first round showdown with point leader Justin Ashley.

“We made a slight improvement (Saturday), but not enough to move us up any higher in the field,” she said, “and definitely not the run we wanted. So, tomorrow we have to start over. Tomorrow’s a new day. It’s going to be completely different conditions and we are hoping (to have) a little luck on our side. If we just get the car down the track, we should be in good shape.”