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Funny Car: The Prock Rocket is flying high, but the competition is right behind

Funny Car: The Prock Rocket is flying high, but the competition is right behind
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With five drivers within 70 points, the Funny Car class is anything but funny five races into the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series. Here’s a look at the frontrunners and highlights of the season so far.

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THE POINTS LEADER

Six months ago, when funding dried up for his John Force Racing-fielded Top Fueler, Austin Prock was planning on turning wrenches on the Cornwell Tools Camaro tuned by his father, Jimmy, and brother Thomas. Then came the medical sabbatical by that car’s driver, three-time Funny Car world champ Robert Hight, and five races into the 2024 Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, Austin Prock has gone from fill-in driver to Funny Car points leader.

Other than a lost weekend on a tricky track at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals and a rare miscue at the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, both of which resulted in first-round exits, the Prock family has socked it to the flop crop with a win, two runner-ups, and a trio of No. 1 qualifying efforts.

PUSHING FOR THE FRONT

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J.R. Todd led the points for the first three events after winning the season opener in Gainesville. Todd and the DHL “yella fellas” have been delivering on-time performances all year that have them less than a round (17 points) behind the “Prock Rocket.” Todd and crew chiefs Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith have not lost in the first round this year and have compiled an enviable 11-4 win-loss record. That’s two more round-wins than Prock, but the team has lost ground primarily on its qualifying efforts, which include 12th- and 13th-place rankings.

Four-time world champion Matt Hagan picked up his milestone 50th win in Charlotte and also has a Winternationals runner-up and a final-quad appearance in Las Vegas on his ledger. He’s just 32 points behind Prock with a car that has again found its footing.

Bob Tasca III, who has the sporadically best-performing car in the class and captured the Las Vegas four-wide win in a wild triple holeshot, and 16-time champ John Force, who won the rain-delayed Winternationals final over Hagan, are both about 70 points behind Prock.

LOOKING FOR TRACTION

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Three-time world champ Ron Capps has no wins and no runner-ups through the first five events, though he did finish third in the final quad in Las Vegas. Two 11th-place qualifying efforts — in Phoenix and Las Vegas — seem like outliers surrounding a trio of top-five qualifiers, including a No. 2 in Pomona, but Capps owns a so-so 5-5 round record.

Alexis DeJoria and crew chief Del Worsham made it through a rocky five events that began with their dual DNQ at the 2023 NHRA Finals and another at the Winternationals. Worsham did some housecleaning and retraining in the crew department to correct some costly oversights and scored a runner-up in Phoenix and qualified an impressive No. 4 in Charlotte.

IN OTHER NEWS …

Like young Prock, Daniel Wilkerson did not envision himself behind the wheel of a nitro Funny Car this year until father Tim decided to hang up the driving gloves and insert his son as his driver. “D-Wilk” has impressed so far and was runner-up at the Charlotte NHRA 4-Wide Nationals.

Daniel Wilkerson spent the last few seasons tuning Chad Green into championship-contention form but had to relinquish that role. Veteran crewmembers Dean Marinis and Joe Serena jumped in to fill the void and has performed admirably, with the best finish being a semifinal in Gainesville.

Paul Lee also has looked strong with four top-half qualifying efforts in five events, though round-wins have become a scarcity outside of a runner-up in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge in Phoenix.

As part of the new Scag “factory team,” Dave Richards and crew had high hopes for what would be their first full season on the tour. After a lackluster start with two DNQs and two first-round losses, the team notched its first round-win of the season in Charlotte.

Even though it’s been a dozen years since Matt Hagan made the first three-second Funny Car, there were still plenty of folks out there gunning for their first sub-three entering the season, and lo and behold, three more of our privateer favorites got the job done. Terry Haddock got his first two in Gainesville then added another in Pomona. Jason Rupert and team notched their first three in Pomona, and Jeff Diehl finally cracked the tough nut in Las Vegas with his first three in round one. Look for Buddy Hull to join this list shortly.

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Star-crossed Jim Campbell has been a pleasant surprise on the tour as the lightly funded privateer has made it to the first five events of the season in the Herzhauser Racing entry and is determined to draw the attention of a sponsor.
 



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