Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang Funny Car
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Eight tour victories in his first four seasons with John Force Racing answered any nagging questions about Jimmy Prock’s ability to tune a temperamental fuel Funny Car.
This year, though, the junior member of the John Force Racing “braintrust” embarked on a new challenge, that of integrating rookie driver Robert Hight into a program that is accustomed to success.
It took him just three races to put his new driver on the “pole” for the first time and just four to get him to the winners’ circle. All that remains is a run at the NHRA POWERade championship that has been the exclusive property of JFR for the last 12 seasons.
The upside of the Prock-Hight alliance was that Hight knew what was expected of him after having worked for six seasons as a crewman on Force’s championship-winning Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang.
The downside was supposed to have been that the 35-year-old Hight never had driven a car of any kind until he climbed into the cockpit of the Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang last season as the team’s official “test driver.”
Apparently, that downside was overstated.
a “dragster guy” because his initial success was achieved
in Top Fuel dragsters (three tour victories with Cory McClenthan; 18
more with Joe Amato), Prock actually was hired at the end of the 2000
season to oversee the build-up of an anticipated JFR dragster. When
that program failed to materialize, he was assigned instead to the team’s
third Mustang Funny Car.
Not only was Prock
quickly able to master the nuances of Funny Car racing, he
“Jimmy’s a guy who, when you come down to the last qualifying session and you’re not in the show says ‘I think we can run low ET,’” Force said. “He never thinks about backing it down just to get it in the program. He’s always going for the throat.”
That’s why Force wanted Prock for the third Funny Car: because he wasn’t married to conventional Funny Car ideology. In adapting his Top Fuel combination to the Auto Club Mustang, he made the entire team more potent.
Of course, Prock’s success should not have surprised anyone. After all, he started going to the races with his father, former Funny Car driver Tom Prock, when he was only 11. A three-time NHRA tour runner-up in his own right, the elder Prock introduced his son to some of the biggest names in the sport including Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen and Kenny Bernstein.
“I did ‘whatever,’” Jimmy Prock recalled. “I cleaned parts. I assembled. I had a good chance to learn because (my dad) always worked with good people.”
Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the family moved to California that Prock decided to make his career in the sport. Before moving from Michigan, he seriously was into hockey. Unfortunately for those against whom he now competes, 1980s’ California didn’t offer a lot of opportunities to hone his slap shot.
So, as soon as he graduated high school, he was “gone racing.” Working with veteran Ronnie Swearingen, he helped put independent Funny Car driver John Martin in two finals before a 1989 bout with diabetes almost ended his career – and his life.
“I didn’t know what I had and we just kept going,” Prock recalled. “I just kept getting sicker and finally I went to the doctor. We were in Phoenix. I really couldn’t even function. When I came home, the doctor looked at me and just put me right in the hospital. They put IVs right in me. They said I was about ready to go into a coma.”
Today, he manages the situation through diet and insulin shots.
Once his health stabilized, Prock went to work with Dick LaHaie, from whom he learned the dragster business, and in 1991 he hooked up with Cory Mac,.
Prock and McClenathan startled the sport in 1992 by making a serious run at the NHRA Top Fuel championship before losing the title by today’s equivalent of nine points.
When money got tight, Prock jumped to Amato’s camp, where he remained until the five-time NHRA Champion climbed out of the cockpit at the end of the 2000 season. Now, he’s a “Funny Car guy” again, but nobody seems to be laughing – except, maybe, Force and Hight.