Austin Prock, the fresh face of the NHRA’s Top Fuel class, has been anything but timid since he burst on the scene this February, gaining a ride in a dragster almost literally on the eve of the season-opener but asserting himself right out of the gate.
He has had fun, pedaling the throttle to defeat 2017 champion Brittany Force (on whose crew he worked last year) in his first elimination round, challenging fellow rookie and buddy Jordan Vandergriff to a T-shirt sales contest, and throwing class dominator and reigning champion Steve Torrence off-guard by telling him, “I’m coming for you” – in his first-ever day of qualifying.
He isn’t cocky or brash or obnoxious. He just is confident, this driver of the Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist Dragster.
Prock got that first round-win on the first race day of the year. He bested Vandergriff in T-shirt sales. And he came for Torrence in Sunday’s final round NHRA’s Magic Dry Organic Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways. And he claimed his first victory, knocking off Torrence, who brought a 46-7 elimination-round record to the starting line in his 40th final since the start of the 2016 campaign.
He shared the spotlight Sunday with boss John Force, who finally grabbed his milestone 150th Funny Car triumph, and Pro Stock winner Matt Hartford, who denied Greg Anderson the distinction of becoming the first pro driver in any class to sweep the Western Swing twice.
With that, Prock made a strong argument in his bid for the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award (a/k/a Rookie of the Year Award) with his winning 3.875-second, 307.86-mph performance on the 1,000-foot suburban-Seattle course. And he got a wish fulfilled.
“I wanted to race him in the finals,” Prock said. I said, ‘When we get to my first final, I want to run against Steve Torrence, because I wanted to be the guy who stops him. It’s pretty bad-ass that the rookie stopped the champ.”
Although he said he was speechless, Prock had plenty to say. And he began by saying, “I’ve just got to thank the Lord up above and John Force for giving me this opportunity. I can’t believe we stopped ‘them Capco Boys.’ I told you guys in Pomona I was coming for them.
“This is a dream come true. I’ve wanted this since I was knee-high. Ever since I could think, I wanted to drive a Top Fuel car. It all came together just perfectly,” he said after beating Leah Pritchett, Clay Millican, and Mike Salinas to set up his ideal showdown.
That he shared his career-first victory with Force on his own history-making day didn’t surprise Prock at all.
“Me and Danny Hood [co-crew chief for and son-in-law to Force], we called it from the get-go,” Prock said. “I’m just pissed that Force is going to steal the cover of National Dragster.”
Torrence, making his 11th final-round appearance of the season, had a .135-second advantage but lost himself in a fountain of tire smoke around halftrack and slowed to 4.984 seconds. That ruined the Denver winner’s hope of combining with dad Billy Torrence, the Sonoma winner last week in California, for a “family sweep” of the Western Swing.
The upside for Torrence was that he clinched the regular season championship and extended his lead in the standings. He also became the first racer in any pro class in the Countdown era (since 2007) to earn three consecutive so-called “regular season titles.”
Although the points will be adjusted and his colossal 621-point advantage will shrink to 20 over his closest challenger, Torrence still has a margin of about 31 elimination rounds over Antron Brown when Mello Yello Series action shifts to Brainerd, Minn., for the Aug. 16-18 Lucas Oil Nationals. Prock is tied with Richie Crampton for eighth place.
Torrence said in the final round, he “just felt it start to spin the tires. We didn’t expect that, but that’s why we race.” As for why that happened, he said, “We’ll just have to wait for the autopsy.”
But he was gracious toward Prock: “It was a big win for Austin Prock. He’s a great kid. All you can do is congratulate him and his team and get ready for the next one.”
Torrence beat Steve Chrisman, Brown, and Shawn Reed to advance and make a run at his ninth 2019 victory.
In a sport that has needed a breath of fresh air, Torrence stormed to the forefront with his independent family team to shake up the status quo. Then with his unprecedented performance, especially in the past two or three years, Torrence, in a sense, became the status quo. The two are friendly, certainly, but now Torrence The Texas Terror has a newcomer, an Austin-come-lately, to contend with.
It’s just one victory for Prock and one slight bobble for Torrence. But that shot heard throughout the Top Fuel class Sunday just might be the shot that energizes the sport.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019