FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Audio, story and photo by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman —
When you think of the last name Prock in motorsports circles, the first name that likely comes to mind is renowned NHRA Funny Car crew chief Jimmy Prock, who spent years tuning the legendary “Prock Rockets” for 16-time champion John Force and now works on the Don Schumacher-owned entry driven by ‘Fast’ Jack Beckman.
However his son, 20-year-old Austin Prock, is hoping to change that.
The younger Prock — a development driver for powerhouse Tony Stewart Racing and an Avon, Ind. native — is making his Rumble Racing Series national midget debut during this weekend’s 18th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne, with prior experience on the tight, one-sixth mile concrete oval to lean on.
A winner in quarter midget action at the Rumble in 2008, Prock will be piloting the No. 8 Cornell Racing Stables/JNT Limited VW-Midget for team owner Curt Cornell and says he is fired up to step into the premier division at the Coliseum for the first time after taking laps during Friday night’s practice session.
“It was a lot of fun [getting to go out for the first time yesterday],” said Prock of returning to the indoor track. “It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a race car in a long time, actually. It’s been a bit since I’ve been on the pavement, but I’m really excited to be back on it and hoping to give the Cornell Special a shot out there. I think it’s got a lot of potential.”
Cornell has a long history in open wheel racing, but perhaps the most famous name to ever wheel one of his race cars was five-time USAC National Midget champion and two-time USAC National Sprint Car champion, the late Rich Vogler. Being able to be associated with the same car owner is a token that Prock says sends chills down his spine at the thought of it.
“It’s a really cool deal, to be able to drive for the same owner that Rich did. He was one of the best ever in these cars and he gives guys like me, who are coming up in the sport, something to strive for as we try to make our own way.”
Prock returns to the pavement after spending most of this season competing in dirt midget and sprint car action, with an accomplished resume to rest on coming into the event. He scored the STARS National Midget Series championship in 2014 and is a nine-year veteran of open-wheel pavement competition, but says that this year’s switch-over of surfaces was “quite a struggle.”
“We had the pavement deal pretty well figured out — we were pretty competitive on it — and switching over was tough. We got brow-beat a little bit (laughs), but the season wasn’t all bad. We ended up picking up one win in a dirt sprint car, and learned a lot in the dirt midget as well. Even though I had a lot of bad nights, the good nights made it a bit sweeter.”
“The night we got that win, we went over to Paragon (Ind). Speedway and went up against a field of about 40 cars. Started sixth, had to be patient, but took the lead with about five [laps] to go and never looked back. That was a good night for us because the track got real slick right around the bottom, and I could wheel it like a pavement car right around the bottom of the track. It really fell into my favor and it’s a moment I won’t forget.”
The young rising star will be competing indoors at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in January at the River Spirit (Okla.) Expo Center as well, bring his family’s history and tradition in motorsports full circle. Austin is the fourth-generation of racing Procks, going all the way back to his great-grandfather Jim, who competed in the Indianapolis 500 from 1930-1933 as a riding mechanic alongside Chet Miller.
While his grandfather Tom and father Jimmy made their stakes in the drag racing world, the youngest Prock said he wanted to continue the open-wheel legacy that his great-grandfather began more than eight decades ago.
“Racing’s been in my family going all the way back to the 30s with my great-granddad and his days in the midgets and IndyCars, so it’s always been part of who I am,” Prock explained. “I guess I just wanted to take his route — I’ve always seemed to take the hard route in life, so if making it big in circle track racing means I’ve got to make it a little hard on myself to get there, then that’s what I’ll do.”
And while he said that with a smile, Prock did admit that the thought of strapping in an NHRA car has crossed his mind — and his conversations with his father — over the past few years.
“I’ll always have a love of drag racing because of my dad. I’ve always wanted to try a nitro Funny Car, but the right circumstances just haven’t panned out quite yet. Who knows, I like the circle track racing, but if I can’t make it over here I might give the straight-line deal a shot.”
However, if recent times and his growing learning curve are any indication, Prock’s career turning left still has many chapters yet to be written.
To keep up with the latest on Austin Prock and his racing career, follow him on Twitter @ProckRocket41, and for more information on the Rumble in Fort Wayne — including ticket pricing — visit www.rumbleseries.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Following the 2016 Chili Bowl, Prock will head to Australia, driving a winged sprint car and a dirt midget as he awaits the opening of the 2016 outdoor season in the United States.
Listen in to an extended cut of Race Chaser Online’s conversation with Austin Prock during practice for this year’s Rumble in Fort Wayne by clicking the player below:
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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