Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – BRAINERD, MN – Austin Prock is still savoring every part of picking up his first career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series victory in Top Fuel. But one aspect of enjoying the victory for the Top Fuel rookie is how much it has motivated him to try to get more and more wins.
Prock will get that chance this weekend, as he makes his Top Fuel debut at Brainerd International Raceway for the 38th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in his 11,000-horsepower Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist dragster. The victory in Seattle was a major milestone for Prock, who is now firmly inside the top 10 in the class, but it’s only pushed him to try to do more, especially with the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship approaching.
“I’d like to say I’m hungrier than ever,” Prock said. “Getting that taste of victory, which I wanted to get all year, now that I’ve had it I want them all now. We just have to keep our heads down. I’ve dreamed of this my whole life, but we can’t get too excited. We really didn’t have the greatest car in Seattle, but we all came together and worked well together. I picked up the car when I needed to and they picked me up when I needed it. That’s how you win races – a total team effort.”
Billy Torrence (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Aug. 18. The festive weekend in Brainerd is one of the most unique and memorable atmospheres on the NHRA circuit. It includes the huge on-site campground known as “The Zoo,” jet cars and a special Primetime nitro qualifying session at 6 p.m. on Friday, and Prock can’t wait to experience it all for the first time as a professional driver.
It’s also the 17th of 24 races during the 2019 season, making it the penultimate race of the NHRA regular season. The good thing for Prock, who is now tied for eighth in points, is the team seems to be coming together at the perfect time. The team shuffled through people early in the season, but that has since been solidified with crew chiefs Mike Green and Ronnie Thompson leading the way. As Prock continues to progress as a driver, the overall improvement has been impressive.
“We’re all learning together,” Prock said. “It’s been a long, hard journey, but nothing is built overnight. We’ve had a lot of tough breaks this year, but everything came together at once (in Seattle). It’s natural to get down on yourself during some of those tough moments, but I told them to stay positive. We’ve got a good group of guys and we’re all gelling together. I need to have the right mindset and I’ve been lucky enough to put some valuable lessons in my pocket.”
Prock hopes to apply those in Brainerd, after defeating the likes of points leader and defending world champ Steve Torrence, Leah Pritchett, Clay Millican and Mike Salinas en route to the win in Seattle. He’ll have to deal with that trio in Brainerd, as well as the likes of Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta and Richie Crampton to keep his recent hot streak going. But racing in Brainerd has a certain way of drawing energy out of the drivers.
“We just have to keep our heads down and keep picking at it without making mistakes,” Prock said. “Everyone has to stay focused because attention to detail is huge in this deal. My guys are doing a fine job and our goal is to run like a well-oiled machine. It gives me confidence to go drill that tree. I’ve had my fair share of fun in Brainerd the last three years, and it’s fun to see all the rowdy fans and pay our respects to them. It should be exciting.”
Beckman picked up his first Funny Car career win in Brainerd a year ago, and is after his first in 2019 to get his season on track. He’ll have to do it against stars like points leader Robert Hight, defending world champ J.R. Todd, Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., Matt Hagan and John Force.
Kramer enjoyed a breakout season in Pro Stock a year ago, winning his first two career races. He has a win this year and will try for another against the likes of points leader Bo Butner, area natives Greg Anderson and Jason Line, Jeg Couglin Jr., Chris McGaha and Alex Laughlin.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying on both days, fans can watch the spectacular Lucas Oil “Muy Caliente” jet cars. Jet cars are propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock Motorcycle school at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, as well as Nitro School to learn how the cars and motorcycles operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Brainerd International Raceway will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans can congratulate the winners as they celebrate their Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals victories.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 16 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Aug. 17, at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 18.