Antron Brown clinched the Top Fuel championship, his first, in white-knuckle fashion when teammate Tony Schumacher fell one round short of overhauling his lead during final eliminations at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.
Brown had entered the event comfortably in the points lead, but his first-round loss to teammate Spencer Massey opened the door for both Schumacher and Massey. Massey’s hopes were ended in the second round against Brandon Bernstein, and Schumacher defeated J.R. Todd, Khalid alBalooshi, and Bob Vandergriff Jr. to reach the final round. With the championship on the line, Schumacher fell to Bernstein by .008-second, 3.762 to 3.753, to make a very relieved Brown the season champ.
“I’m beside myself because I feel so blessed to be in this moment right now," said Brown. "I’m glad we could bring this home for DSR. It feels incredible.
“I saw both cars stay lit up all the way down the racetrack. I saw Tony’s 3.75 pop up and thought, ‘He’s got it.’ Then I saw the win light on Brandon’s side, and it was like, ‘Brandon just won?!’ It was liked mixed emotions. I thought about our team, and it set in that we just won. To win the championship with the way the competition has been this year in Top Fuel is incredible.
“You don’t wish anything bad on anybody. Don [Schumacher] has orchestrated a team where we help each other. Tony has been my biggest supporter since Day One. He’s a seven-time world champ, and he’s helped me leaps and bounds. Spencer came along a few years later, and our teams rose up to get better and better each year. As drivers, we press on each other and have elevated each other to another level."
Brown put himself in the mix during the regular season with wins in Phoenix and Chicago. A strong Western Swing that included back-to-back wins in Denver and Sonoma gave him a points lead that he kept through the end of the regular season to give him the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs.
The Countdown to the Championship began on a disastrous note for Brown. He was ahead of Khalid alBalooshi during their first-round match at the Charlotte event when his input shaft broke, which destroyed a lot of parts and cost him the round. He slipped from No. 1 to No. 4 in the standings, but the resilient team bounced back.
Brown scored consecutive wins in Dallas and St. Louis, defeating teammate Massey in the final round on each occasion. The Dallas win left the two drivers tied atop the standings, and the St. Louis victory gave Brown a points lead that he would never relinquish.
Though Brown didn’t win the Reading event, he still managed a signature performance that was critical for his championship hopes. The performance-laden event paved the way for Brown to become the quickest driver in NHRA history when crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald turned the right knobs to send the pink Matco Tools dragster to a blistering 3.701-second run during the semifinal round. His 3.72 in the previous round gave him the backup for the national record, which earned him another 20 points.
A surprise first-round loss, again to alBalooshi, gave his opponents an opportunity to chip into his big lead in Las Vegas, but they were unable to fully capitalize for the most part when Vandergriff, who had already been eliminated from contention, won the event.