Car racer wins historic title in California event
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 1:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 1:43 p.m.
Antron Brown became the first black champion in any NHRA pro series when he won the Top Fuel title on Sunday at the season-ending event.
Brown suffered minor burns to his hands when his engine popped in an opening-round loss during eliminations, then had to wait to celebrate his victory until the final, when teammate Tony Schumacher lost in a photo finish to Brandon Bernstein.
"I feel so blessed to be in this moment right now and this is a big huge moment," Brown said. "I am just glad we could bring it home for Don Schumacher Racing. To win the world championship the way the competition has been this year in Top Fuel and to run and compete how we've been doing all season long is just phenomenal. We all switched the lead back and forth a bunch of times. Is this really happening?"
Brown led Schumacher, a seven-time champion, by 67 points at the start of Sunday's eliminations. It looked as if Schumacher might take the title until he lost the final to Bernstein by eighth-thousandths of a second.
But this was no gimme for Brown, who was eliminated in the first round at Las Vegas two weeks ago and had his lead in the standings gobbled up by Schumacher.
Brown had gone into Las Vegas up by 136 points over his teammate, who advanced to the finals against Bob Vandergriff but fell short in his bid to win his 70th career victory.
When the win light went on in Bernstein's lane, Brown was mobbed by his teammates, family and friends in a huge celebration at the starting line.
"If I can be an inspiration for any of the kids out there who have dreams, any Americans, that's all I want," said Brown, who earned six victories in 11 final rounds and was top qualifier three times en route to his title.
The NHRA has long been one of the most diverse series in motorsports. Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to earn a license from NHRA to drive a Top Fuel dragster and won three championships, and brothers Cruz and Tony Pedregon, who are of Hispanic descent, both won Funny Car championships.
Earlier this season, Erica Enders became the first woman to win a Pro Stock event, beating four-time champion Greg Anderson in the finals at Route 66 Raceway.
"Our sport has been so diverse for so long," Brown said.
"The thing that is important about this for me is hopefully I can inspire some inner-city kids or some minority kids. If I could open the doors up for kids, get them intrigued and interested, then that would mean something to me."
Antron Brown started the week last week at Miramar College in San Diego, where he used his own experiences in urging students not to set limits on what they can accomplish.
Brown had mistakenly done that himself early in his NHRA career, when he figured Pro Stock Motorcycle was the highest level he could reach.
"My biggest dream was always to race a Top Fuel or Funny Car, but I always thought it was way out of reach because we didn't come from money," Brown said last week in an interview with The Associated Press.
"And I began to ask myself, ‘Why am I settling?' Then when I got the partnership with the U.S. Army, it taught me how to use my tools. I began to use my personality, my drive, my approach to people — how I never take failure. And that's exactly what I did, and I got myself into a fuel car," he said.