Antron Brown can almost taste the 2014 Top Fuel title.
Antron Brown is one of NHRA’s most competitive Top Fuel racers. The 2012 champion, who won the title while nursing burnt hands incurred on the final day of the season, had to stand and wait for his competition to fail and overtake a points lead. That he did then, and will he do so again this year?
Brown, the former Pro Stock Motorcycle standout, has competed in one of drag racing’s highest profile categories since 2008. Prior to that he captured 16 victories in 33 final rounds, 11 No. 1 qualifying awards and twice finished second in Pro Stock Motorcycle points. Under the tutelage of Lee Beard, Brown’s initial adjustment to driving a four-wheeled, 8,000-horsepower dragster was quick and successful.
Top fuel career
While he started his Top Fuel career with David Power Motorsports, driving a Matco Tools rail in 2008, that group folded and Brown drove for three different teams before landing, near the close of the 2009 season, at Don Schumacher Racing - where he’d been racing a Suzuki motorcycle before graduating to four wheels.
Brown has stayed at DSR ever since, working with co-crew chiefs Brian Corradi and 1984 NHRA Funny Car champion Mark Oswald, as a team they became a force in their class. When he took his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African American champion in any professional racing class - but he really doesn’t care to bring that up, because in NHRA drag racing, nobody cares what color you are, or what gender you are either.
Up and down year
The 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season has been a carnival ride for Antron Brown. While he’s coming into the fourth consecutive Countdown to the Championship race (of six total) holding six victories - the most recent last weekend outside St Louis and his third consecutive at the Gateway dragstrip - the first three races of the Countdown he’s been in the bottom half of the field and gone out in the first round due to mysterious mechanical issues. Brown needed a big weekend to stay in the hunt for that second title - he got it last week and now he’s hungry for more.
Still firmly associated with Matco Tools and the U.S. Army (his sponsor on two wheels), this weekend Brown’s dragster features his sponsor’s salute to the Susan G. Komen foundation and October’s breast cancer awareness month. Matco Tools has raised more than $436,000 since 2012 for the Komen foundation and this weekend Brown’s (and teammate Jack Beckman’s Funny Car) salute the “I Drive For” campaign on their fire suits and race cars. Brown is driving for Linda Matranga, his mother-in-law and a breast cancer survivor.
Some tracks you go to, you just feel more comfortable. The rest of the tracks for the rest of the year fit our style
Antron Brown on Maple Grove
So the effervescent Brown has good motivation for another successful run this weekend - driving in honor of his mother-in-law and seeking more success at a track where he owns three final-round appearances, Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading. In his championship year, Brown set the national E.T. record (which still stands) of 3.701 seconds on the 1,000-foot dragstrip nestled in the Pennsylvania countryside.
While he’s never won at Maple Grove, “Some tracks you go to, you just feel more comfortable. The rest of the tracks for the rest of the year fit our style, and that’s the good part about it,” Brown said. “We’ve done well and can do well in Reading, can do well in Las Vegas and can do well (at the season closer) in Pomona.”
With the mechanical difficulties he suffered starting with the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, carrying through to Charlotte and Texas, Brown sat eighth in the ten-driver Countdown class striving for the 2014 Top Fuel title. Thanks to last weekend’s breakthrough sixth victory in St. Louis, he’s only 80 points behind teammate Tony Schumacher.
My team is doing a stout job, and I just want to be on my game to hold up my end of the bargain
Antron Brown on title hopes
New Jersey native Brown defeated reigning Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon in the St Louis final round. Langdon has a single win this season but has been very consistent throughout the year and lies second behind four-race-winner Schumacher. Steve Torrence is third and Brown lies fourth. Of the 10 drivers in the Countdown, only Torrence and Brittany Force have not yet won a race.
Brown discusses title fight
“Every race is decided on your whole package, so I try to leave nothing on the table,” Brown said. “My team is doing a stout job, and I just want to be on my game to hold up my end of the bargain. When you put those things together, that’s what wins races. We’re focused on what our car needs to do to get the job done.”
He realizes that the job isn’t easy: “It shows you how brutal this class is,” speaking of his comeback last Sunday. “These guys in the Countdown, they’re coming out and they’re playing hard because we all want to win a championship. We’re back into the fighting mode with three races left but we still have to keep on pushing. It’s anybody’s race out there.”