BROWNSBURG, Ind. - Refreshed, recharged and ready to defend.
A week ago, Antron Brown and his wife Billie Jo were enjoying their 12th anniversary cruise to the Bahamas and a respite from a too brief off-season highlighted by spending the holidays with their family and a segment on NBC's Today show.
And now he will be competing as the man to beat after leading Top Fuel teams in 2012 with six event titles and 11 championship rounds en route to Nov. 11 when he won his first NHRA championship and delivered the 11th NHRA world title to Don Schumacher Racing.
Now it's time to get back to business in the cockpit of DSR's Matco Tools Top Fuel Dragster with crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald when racing begins Thursday in his first event as reigning Top Fuel world champion in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series opener at Pomona, Calif.
"Our weeks have been full of development going forward, not just in performance but in safety," he said of the coming season when he will be among four drivers utilizing the enclosed safety canopy developed by DSR and manufactured by Aerodine Composites of Indianapolis. Tony Schumacher led the way when he debuted the canopy last summer and at the Winternationals will be joined by Antron, teammate Spencer Massey and John Force Racing rookie Brittany Force driving "under glass."
"The canopy on my racecar is here to stay. It's on there, locked, sealed and delivered," Antron said. "After driving with it down the racetrack several times and looking back to what I used to race with it's like, 'I don't want to go back there.'
"You go from a three-sixteenth-inch piece of Plexiglas between you and 330 miles an hour, now you go to a fully enclosed cockpit that's got a ballistic windshield that's bulletproof. Now we have all the new struts to brace it to make the cockpit better where it gives you a lot more support and makes that area stronger where things can't even get to you. We're definitely happy we have that on our racecar."
His Matco dragster isn't the only piece of the championship team that has undergone a tune-up.
"I've been going at it hard with my training and conditioning," said the former college sprinter. "Three days in the gym, two days playing basketball. I've been keeping up that regimen throughout the off-season so I can come back in tip-top shape. Let me tell you something, after a racing season when I haven't been in the gym regularly I can tell. It definitely took me a few weeks to get readjusted to that again."
In addition to his on-track recognition as the first African-American to win a major U.S. auto racing season championship, he was honored by being selected for NBC's The Grio 100 list of leaders in the African-American community that led to a segment on the Feb. 8 edition of the NBC Today show.
The segment, which aired on the popular morning show that averages nearly 5 million viewers daily, was monumental for Antron and NHRA drag racing. It also was on MSNBC over the past weekend. (on.today.com/XWlpat).
"Being on the Today show meant so much to my family and friends," he said. "I was able to watch it with Billie Jo while we were on the ship."
NBC reporter and MSNBC anchor Craig D. Melvin and Today producer Chemene Pelzer were joined by an Indianapolis-based film crew on Feb. 1 to spend the morning with Antron at the DSR shop in Brownsburg, Ind., then the afternoon at his Pittsboro home with his family.
Those are special memories but not even close to his recollections of Nov. 11, 2012, when he won the championship.
"Well, you know, definitely when we pull into Pomona, I'm just going to remember back a little bit of last year," he said. "But last year now is pretty much done and over with. So we're back at work, just like usual."
And then it will be back to the future.
Don Schumacher Racing