Antron Brown Moves In On Championship, History
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Despite his worst qualifying effort of the season, NHRA Top Fuel point-leader Antron Brown is closing on the next milestone in drag racing’s “drive for diversity.”
Brown is poised to become the first African-American to win a major American auto racing season championship. Eight rounds of racing remain in the six-event Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship heading into Sunday’s 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Brown qualified a shaky 13th on the 16-car ladder.
Brown, who began the weekend with a 104-point lead over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Spencer Massey, saw his lead trimmed to 90 points after the Texan earned eight bonus points during qualifying en route to the No. 2 starting spot. But barring a monumental collapse, Brown will wrap-up his first NHRA championship either Sunday or during the season-ending 48th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona, Nov. 8-11.
“You know, there’s still two races left but with a lot of racing to go, and in one race, like the points lead that we have can disappear,” said Brown, driver of the Matco Tools “Tools for the Cause” dragster. “We’re basically keeping our head down and we want to stay on the offensive side, keep attacking. We have got to keep attacking if we want to hope to actually bring this championship home.”
Ironically, Brown’s previous worst start was 12th during the spring NHRA event at Las Vegas, where the team led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald rallied during eliminations to advance to the championship round. The winner that day was Massey, who rekindled his title hopes Saturday.
“Obviously, it’s not that I’m going to totally concede or say, you know what, it’s his race or his championship to win,” said Massey, driver of the Prestone/FRAM dragster. “Really if you think about it, we’d have to win both races, which is totally capable. This car is capable of winning the last two races of the season, but also Antron is not going to be able to go too many rounds. If he goes, I believe, a total of three rounds in the next two races, even with us winning it, it’s still going to be his.
“I mean, racing gods are racing gods. Hopefully they fall in the favor of the Prestone/FRAM car, but a lot of things are going to have to fall our way. If you think back, you can look back at years ago when (seven-time world champion/DSR teammate) Tony Schumacher won the championship with his run in 2006 that was kind of the same situation. So anything can happen but in reality, I mean, it’s going to be tough. But I am going to keep my same focus like we have been and try and win both races. If Antron falls out early or whatever the situation happens to me, then that’s the situation.”
NHRA’s version of the “drive for diversity” marked a milestone on July 1, when Erica Enders became the first woman to win an NHRA Pro Stock national event at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill. Enders, who turned pro in 2005 and became the first woman to reach a Pro Stock final at Joliet, since has added three more wins and sits third in the Countdown standings in the Factory Hot Rod class.
Recall that Brown launched his NHRA career in 1998 in Pro Stock Motorcycle and racked up 16 national event victories through 2007. Brown finished second to Angelle Sampey by 157 points in 2001 and was runnerup to Andrew Hines by 23 points in 2006. Brown’s transition to Top Fuel in 2008 was seamless as he posted two wins (and three poles) to become the only NHRA driver to win races in Top Fuel and PSM.
Brown’s trophy case now includes 37 Wallys, tying him for 37th on the all-time NHRA list with Funny Car driver
and DSR teammate Ron Capps. No matter the vehicle, Brown has carried himself with a championship-caliber attitude that, basically, has made ethnicity a non-issue.
“Well, you’ve just got to stay humble, and you’ve just got to appreciate the guys that make it happen,” said Brown, a 36-year-old native of Chesterfield, N.J., living in Pittsboro, Ind. “You can look at our team _ Tony, Spencer and myself _ yeah, we have confidence in ourselves that we go out in a car and get a job done. But all three of us would be nothing if we didn’t have the stout teams that we have. I mean, Tony has been there, he’s won numerous world championships. Spencer’s car last year was ‘the car.’
“It just goes through drag racing luck where sometimes things don’t fall your way. Trust me, I’ve been there numerous times on the bike and I’ve been there in Top Fuel where you can be there and you’ve got a great feeling inside like we can get this championship, and it doesn’t go your way.
“You’ve just got to be humble because, if not, the sport will humble you and make you cringe at times. You go from hero-to-zero in our sport, and that’s why I just keep the same attitude I always have. Because the more stuff that you talk, the more stuff you have to eat in the long run, trust me, because it will come back around in this sport.”
Schumacher, third in the Countdown standings, emerged as the pole-sitter Saturday after a 1,000-foot pass of 3.773-seconds at 324.29 mph in his U.S. Army dragster. Massey posted numbers of 3.776-seconds and 323.43 mph while Brown clocked-in at 3.869-seconds and 313.88 mph Friday and failed to improve during his final three attempts.
Brown, whose 49-15 won/loss record through 21 of 23 events leads both Massey (43-17) and “The Sarge” (37-19), said he did not anticipate mind-games with either teammate.
“Absolutely not,” said Brown, who has won a class-leading six races this season. “I mean, Spencer is as straight as they come, and same thing with Tony. When we race each other there’s no games going on, man, it’s all business. When we line up, you’ve got seven seconds to come in when you stage and my deal with Spencer is I’ve got to work on being quicker. I get up there and I’m trying to inch-in and put the bulb on and blink the bulb on, and he’ll get up in there and he’s ready for business. He rolls it in and is like, ‘Come on, let’s go!’ That’s how Spencer is. He’s no joke.
“You never know what Tony is going to do, it all depends, but you’d just better be ready when he comes in because he means business also. All our guys are top-notch and they’re straightforward and that’s the way they race. There’s no games when you’re running the way we’re running right now. You’ve got to line up and race.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment