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Antron Brown Settling In At DSR

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 13 2010
Antron Brown has a new home and is getting comfortable there. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series))

Antron Brown has a new home and is getting comfortable there. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series))

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Antron Brown has learned to drive hard and travel light during his nomadic NHRA Top Fuel career, the residue of having raced for four team-owners over two seasons. But Brown believes his barnstorming days are over, as he settles in for his first full season with Don Schumacher Racing’s three-car Top Fuel stable.

“Hopefully, that doesn’t change for a while,” said Brown, who has joined seven-time/reigning champion Tony Schumacher and perennial contender Cory McClenathan in DSR’s powerhouse lineup. “I’ve been blessed to be in a really good place right now. It’s very stable. These guys eat and sleep racing. Feels good to be in the situation I’m in right now.”

Don Schumacher purchased Brown’s team from Mike Ashley late during last year’s Countdown to 1 championship run, with Antron making his DSR debut at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Brown then repaid Schumacher’s investment by winning the season-finale at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., site of this weekend’s 2010 season-opener.

Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/Toyota Dragster, sits seventh on the qualification ladder through two rounds of time trials for the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals with numbers of 3.869-seconds and 313.73 mph. Two rounds of qualifications are scheduled for today, with final eliminations on Sunday for the first of 23 events in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.

Two-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon moved to the head of the provisional chart Friday with a 1,000-foot pass at 3.795-seconds and 317.79 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing Dragster. Dixon bumped Cory Mac and the FRAM Dragster to second at 3.809/320.05. Schumacher is fourth after a best pass of 3.835/317.57 in the U.S. Army Dragster.

Reigning Funny Car champion Robert Hight retained his No. 1 spot at 4.059-seconds and 312.86 mph in the Auto Club Ford Mustang fielded by John Force Racing. In Pro Stock, reigning champion Mike Edwards remained on-pole at 6.580-seconds and 210.47 mph in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP.

Clearly, Brown and co-crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald have considerable ground to close today. “Last year we almost started off the season with a win,” said Brown, who lost February’s final to Doug Kalitta (3.822-seconds to 3.847) after qualifying No. 1. “Once we got through testing (in 2009), we started having fun right off the bat. We clicked in the beginning and grew. There’s no team I‘d rather be with right now than with Brian and Mark.

“We have a brand new race car and new combination that we know is going to be better. I think we’ll be real competitive. We want to do that ‘preseason’ (the first 17 NHRA national events) real well and attack the Countdown…go for the gusto the last six races. We’ve got to refocus our energy to do it at the right time.”

Brown has qualified No. 1 in both of his Top Fuel Winternationals appearances. During a semifinal win over Brandon Bernstein, Brown clocked what proved to be the second-quickest pass of the ‘09 season at 3.778-seconds. Although winless in the Winternationals, Brown is a winner at Auto Club Raceway in both Pro Stock Motorcycle (1999) and Top Fuel (2009).

Last November, Brown earned the No. 4 qualifying position at 3.813-seconds and 316.15 mph en route to a final-round victory over rookie Spencer Massey at 3.801-seconds and 316.90 mph _ the quickest pass of eliminations. Brown also has two runnerup finishes in the season-finale at Pomona.

Brown made the huge move to Top Fuel in 2008 after a Pro Stock Motorcycle career that produced 16 victories and 11 poles between 1998 and 2007, including a stint with DSR. Brown’s best PSM point finishes were seconds in 2001 and 2006. The 1999 PSM Rookie of the Year, Brown won the prestigious U.S. Nationals in 2000 and 2004, part of a stretch that saw him win at least one race between 1999 and 2006. Following a winless season on his bike in 2007, Brown switched to Top Fuel and finished fifth in points.

Brown earned a Top Fuel-best six victories in 2009 while placing third in the Countdown, 49 points behind Tony Schumacher. Brown’s six victories were one more than both Schumacher and runnerup Dixon, who finished two points behind his archrival. Brown, who has eight Top Fuel national event victories, qualified first seven times in 2009 to raise his career total to 21 poles.

Those stats are even more impressive considering that Brown has worked for four different owners. Brown began his Top Fuel career driving for David Powers, whose team was bought by Tim Buckley later in 2008. Last year, Brown began the season running for Ashley, who had bought-out the team’s assets from Buckley. Don Schumacher blindsided the drag racing community when he purchased the team from a legally embattled Ashley in the days leading to 2009’s penultimate event in Vegas.

Brown said he was anything but shocked by Schumacher’s decision to add this team to his empire. “There were several teams out there that wanted this team,” said Brown, who advanced to 10 final rounds in 2009. “I just hoped we landed in a good spot, however it was decided.

“This is my third year with this race team, as far as coming back with the same team. That’s a good feeling…we don’t have to rebuild. That’s the main thing about our team, we’re going to take off where we left off last season, and we can grow from there. The competition is going to be tough. But here at DSR, with all the resources…we have everything we need. Absolutely everything.”

Chief among those resources is a Hadman-based DSR chassis. Brown and his team spent five days testing  in mid-January at Palm Beach International Raceway near Jupiter, Fla. Brown’s best run was 3.815-seconds at 322.11 mph _ the fastest 1,000-foot speed Brown has recorded and his first 1,000-foot run over 320 mph.

“Works real well,” Brown said of the new combination. “The DSR car has got some minute changes to make ‘em better and they do work really well.”

Brown and his wife, Billie Jo, closed the offseason by celebrating their nine-year wedding anniversary on a cruise to Cozumel. “We got spoiled and pampered,” said Brown, who will turn 34 on March 1. “It was our time to get away and drop everything. That was my week of letting racing go. We’d been fully-focused on racing all through the holidays _constantly thinking about going after the world championship. That was time to take five days off, get re-energized and get the desire and the hunger back. I’m ready to go after it.”

Personally, that has meant extended time in the gym _ even while onboard the cruise ship _ and at the shop with his team. “Boot camp started but it really gets underway right now,” said Brown, the only racer in NHRA history to win national events and lead the standings in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle. “I work out hard in the first six months of the season, work out as hard as I can, so the last three months _ that’s where I get into my groove. I try to peak for the last three months, where it counts. When a lot of people are getting burned out, that’s when I’m picking it up.

“When we have the Western Swing and three races back-to-back, that’s where I’m getting quicker and deadly consistent. I get better. That’s what I try to do…I’m peaking for the championship.” Case in point, Brown made NHRA history in July when he became just the third driver to sweep the grueling Western Swing of national events through Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, Calif.

That said, the 2010 Top Fuel title figures to again go through Schumacher, winner of an unprecedented six consecutive championships. Still, “The Sarge” conceded that Brown will be among the bona fide contenders.

“Oh, for sure. No doubt,” said Schumacher, who said he and Brown and McClenathan have fully bought into a share-all-information agreement. “We talk all the time.  We talk about everything from the seat location to the pedal location to what we look at down the track _ everything.  Antron’s a genuinely good guy.  He’s a good competitor.  When you beat him, you feel good.  Beating a guy that’s really good at what he does is what it’s all about.

“I think there is nothing held back.  There is no reason in the world that I will not teach him or he will not teach me whatever he learns or I learn to move forward and be better as a driver. We just always have (shared information).”

Brown noted that his friendship with Schumacher dates to his tenure aboard the U.S. Army-sponsored Pro Stock Motorcycle at DSR, and that he sought out Tony’s opinion before making the move to Top Fuel.

“Me and Tony were friends even when we were on opposite teams,” Brown said. “Everybody wants to knock Tony off because he’s won those championships. We have the car to do it. We have great respect for one another, but we want to win that championship. It was our championship to lose last year. We did everything right but slipped up at the wrong time. We’ve learned from our mistakes and we’re going to be right there when that Countdown comes around.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 13 2010
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