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Prock To Make Forceful Return

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 12 2017

Tuner Jimmy Prock has returned to John Force Racing.

Funny Car icon John Force will chase a record 17th NHRA world championship in 2017 with crew chief Jimmy Prock calling the shots following his prodigal return to John Force Racing after a two-year stint with archrival Don Schumacher Racing.

Prock, who tuned Force to the 2013 NHRA world title, will join co-crew chief Chris Cunningham on Force’s PEAK Chevrolet Camaro SS. Prock worked at JFR for 14 years before joining Schumacher’s organization and serving as crew chief for “Fast” Jack Beckman and his Dodge Charger R/T during the last two NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series seasons.

“I’m putting the band back together,” Force said in a statement from team headquarters in Brownsburg, Ind. “Jimmy Prock is returning home and Chris Cunningham is coming with him. This is a great opportunity to grow the company as NHRA continues to grow, too. To bring talents like Jimmy and Cunningham will make John Force Racing stronger. And it will make the PEAK Chevrolet an NHRA Mello Yello championship contender.”

Force won the title in 2013 after orchestrating an in-house crew chief swap prior to the annual three-race Western Swing in July. Prock joined Force’s Ford Mustang crew from the team of son-in-law Robert Hight. In turn, Mike Neff moved from Force’s car to Hight’s.

The Force-Prock relationship ended abruptly on Oct. 22, 2014, when Force accepted the resignation of Prock during the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Force was second in the title standings, 36 points behind 2011 world champion Matt Hagan of DSR with two playoff races remaining, when Prock informed his boss that he planned to leave JFR at season’s end. Prock was headed to DSR for a position yet to be determined.

As background, Force was in the process of losing long-time manufacturer Ford and sponsor Castrol at the end of the 2014 season. Force said then he was committed to taking $2.5-million from his savings in order to keep his lineup of three Funny Cars and one Top Fuel dragster running the complete NHRA schedule in 2015.

A native of Detroit, Prock is the son of former Funny Car driver Tom Prock, who competed in the NHRA during the 1970s and 1980s. Jimmy Prock first experienced success as a tuner in the Top Fuel ranks as crew chief for Cory McClenathan during his two-win “Cinderella run” as title runnerup in 1992. Cory Mac finished 92 points behind Joe Amato, who clinched his fifth and last world championship. Prock later won 18 national events with Amato.

Prock joined an exclusive fraternity in 2001 when he guided veteran Gary Densham to Funny Car victories at Memphis, Tenn., and Ennis, Texas, to become the 10th crew chief to win races in the sport’s top two categories.

“I’m very excited,” Prock said of his return. “I worked here for a long time, and we’re excited to be back working with the JFR braintrust. Plus, with all of Chevrolet’s support and engineering, this is a whole new adventure. We’re working hard to try to get a championship and win as many races as we can.

“We’re going to test some stuff. Some of what we were doing is a little different than what they are doing, so we’re going to take a little bit of what they had and a little bit of what we were doing and try to blend it all together and see if we can come up with a better car.”

Prock led a charge on the Funny Car record book at DSR in recent years, engineering changes that lowered elapsed times to historic levels. Prock recorded 39 victories while a crew chief at JFR _ 27 with Hight, eight with Densham and four with “Brute” Force.

Beckman finished fifth in the 2016 Funny Car standings topped by first-time champion and DSR teammate Ron Capps. In 2015, Beckman placed second to fellow-Californian Del Worsham of Kalitta Motorsports by 56 points. Beckman won seven races in his Infinite Hero Dodge _ four more races than he ever had won in a single season.

Worsham claimed his second NHRA world championship, and first in Funny Car, with a semifinal win over Beckman en route to victory in the season-ending 51st annual Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. Worsham, who won the Top Fuel title in 2011, became the third driver in NHRA history to capture world championships in both nitro categories, joining Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi.

Cunningham served as crew chief for Bob Tasca’s Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car team, which was aligned with JFR for several seasons, so he is familiar with JFR’s operations.

Meanwhile, Neff returns as crew chief on Hight’s Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, with Jon Schaffer and Jason McCulloch joining that team as co-crew chiefs. The move strengthens the team of the 2009 Funny Car world champion.

“We’ve got some talent on that car,” Force said. “Jon and McCulloch had four wins last year with me. Each of those three guys can all run a championship-caliber team on their own, and to have them together on Robert’s car is pretty special.”

Leadership on Courtney Force’s Advance Auto Parts Funny Car and Brittany Force’s Monster Energy Top Fuel dragster remains intact. Danny Hood will be the crew chief and Ronnie Thompson the co-crew chief for Courtney Force, who won the national event in Baytown, Texas, near Houston and the prestigious Traxxas Shootout during the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in 2016 near Indianapolis.

Brian Husen remains the crew chief and Alan Johnson the consultant for Brittany Force, who cemented her place as a championship contender with three victories and a sixth-place point finish in 2016.

“A good football team builds its strength on many levels _ from the head coach to coordinators to players,” John Force said. “You need depth at every level and these moves make us deeper and stronger. Every one of my crew chiefs and co-crew chiefs can run a successful team, and to have them all under one roof just makes us better as a whole and as individual teams.”

JFR also is building toward the future with the addition of Austin Prock to its driver development program. Prock, the son of Jimmy Prock and grandson of pioneer Funny Car driver Tom Prock, has raced Sprint Cars and Midgets in his young career. Austin Prock also won the 2014 STARS National Midget championship.

A third-generation drag racer, Prock, 21, has experience working on JFR race cars and will attend Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School this year as he begins a multi-season program to eventually compete at the sport’s highest level for John Force Racing.

“I’m excited about this young man coming in,” Force said. “I raced his grandpa in the early days, and I knew his dad as a small kid. I’ve watched Jimmy’s sons grow up. It just fits for John Force Racing. The opportunity to bring him into drag racing is great. He’s talented, he’s personable, good-looking, lightweight like a jockey and loves auto racing. I know he can drive a race car. It’s in his DNA, in his blood.”

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NHRA’s competition committee announced changes Wednesday to the qualifying procedures at all Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events and to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. In addition, the officials revealed an added point-and-a-half scale to the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif.

Starting in 2017, drivers at the final event of the year in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will be racing for increased points that could secure a world championship. The winner of the Auto Club NHRA Finals in each Pro class will claim 150 points; the runnerup will earn 120 points; the semifinalists will earn 90 points apiece; the second-round finishers will earn 60 points each and the first-round finishers all will claim 30 points.

A maximum of 191 points is available to a single racer at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in each Mello Yello Series category through the point increase, which also includes 15 points to each driver who makes at least one qualifying attempt. In addition to 165 points for winning and making a qualifying attempt, drivers can be awarded 10 points for earning the No. 1 qualifying position and a max total of 16 points for earning four qualifying bonus points for leading each of the four qualifying sessions.

Points for qualifying positions at the Auto Club NHRA Finals: First, 10; second, nine; third eight; fourth, seven; fifth and sixth, six; seventh and eighth, five; ninth through 12th, four and 13th through 16th, three.

Qualifying bonus points at the Auto Club NHRA Finals are awarded after each qualifying session for the first-, second-, third- and fourth-quickest passes of each session: First, four; second, three; third, two and fourth, one.

New for every event in the 2017 season, qualifying will be based off the quickest 16 elapsed times at the end of each qualifying session.

Changes to the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship also will be in store for all racers battling for a championship during the six-race playoff system. The regular season champion will have his or her Countdown points reset to 2,100 while positions two through 10 will again have their points reset on 10-point increments from 2,080 to 2,000.

NHRA also announced a change to qualifying at Countdown events in 2017. If a driver who qualified for the playoffs and is eligible for the championship does not qualify at a Countdown event in which two qualifying sessions were not completed, said driver will be guaranteed a qualifying position in the event’s final 16-car field.

That driver will be inserted into the ladder in the position of the non-championship eligible driver with the least amount of points entering the event. First-round money will remain with the original qualifier. Round points will be awarded to the Countdown driver; qualifying points will remain with the original qualifier.

“We believe the changes for the 2017 season will increase the level of competition in all the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories,” said Graham Light, NHRA senior vice president of racing operations. “The points-and-half up for grabs at the Auto Club NHRA Finals will bring a heightened level of excitement for the fans and the racers at the conclusion of the race season.”

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7-Eleven will partner with Jim Dunn Racing, along with associate sponsor Oberto Beef Jerky, for the 2017 NHRA Funny Car season.  The primary green and orange colors of 7-Eleven _ the world’s largest convenience store chain _ will be showcased at more than half of the 24 national events.  Featured races will be in markets where 7-Elevens are accessible to fans on their way to and from the racetrack.

Jim Campbell will be Dunn’s driver in 2017. “Our team has worked with a lot of great partners throughout the years and are glad to bring a top global brand to NHRA drag racing,” said Jon Dunn, team manager. Dating to the 1980s, 7-Eleven has sponsored teams in INDYCAR, NASCAR and NHRA.

Funny Car pioneer Jim Dunn has been involved in NHRA drag racing for more than 50 years.  In 2016, Dunn’s 1972 Plymouth Barracuda was voted the No. 11 all-time most popular NHRA Funny Car by fans celebrating the 50th anniversary season of the class. That accomplishment added to the resume of the Hall of Fame team-owner, crew chief and former driver.

Seattle-based/family-owned Oberto Brands is the nation’s leading all-natural jerky snacks company, founded by Constantino Oberto in 1918.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 12 2017
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