Brown hasn’t changed goals despite cementing place in NHRA history
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 8:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 8:03 p.m.
Even if he never qualifies for another event, never wins another race or another championship, Antron Brown is going to own a prominent place in NHRA history.
He secured legendary status last season, when he became the first African-American NHRA world champion and the first black driver to win a major U.S. auto racing championship.
To put that accomplishment in perspective, the only African-American to win a NASCAR race (not a season championship) was Wendell Scott in 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville.
Brown’s achievement earns him pioneer status in professional drag racing (and auto racing in general), which will carry all kinds of weight down through the ages.
But enough about last season and how special that was. Brown is a competitor who is all about staying in the present, about working and striving and trying to win more races and more season championships.
He’ll look back on it all when he’s done making history. He says he’s just getting started.
“The goal is to go out there and win more races, chase more championships,” said the 37-year-old Brown, who drives the Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster. “We don’t want to win just one championship. We want to build a legacy.”
There are many reasons to believe he will.
It was only six years ago that Brown was competing in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Since transitioning to Top Fuel in 2008 with the powerful Don Schumacher Racing team, he has won 37 NHRA events and established the national E.T. record (3.701 seconds).
The great momentum he started building almost immediately in Top Fuel culminated with Brown winning his historical world championship in 2012. He won six events and edged out teammate Tony Schumacher by seven points (2,555 to 2,548) for the season title.
“It was definitely one of those dream-come-true years for the whole race team,” Brown said. “It made all those trials and bumps and bruises you went through over the years worth it.
“When I hoisted that trophy, I felt like all that pain you went through was for a purpose.”
Brown said he hopes his magical season will inspire others, especially young African-Americans who may be looking for a role model to follow or emulate.
“It feels great (to be the first African-American to win a world championship in professional racing),” he said. “My deal is, maybe it can inspire some kids. Maybe they’ll see what I did and say, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ Maybe it will help give some kids some hope.
“That’s what winning the championship means to me.”
Brown said his drag-racing hero growing up, his inspiration, was John Force, the Funny Car legend and winningest driver in NHRA history.
“John Force was my ray of hope,” Brown said. “He grew up in a trailer home in California and became a team owner and established himself as a legend for what he’s done over his whole career.
“When I saw that story, I said, ‘I can do it.’ Maybe what I’m doing now will give someone a ray of hope.”
Brown said he’s hoping his accomplishments will draw African-Americans to the sport. Not just drivers, but crew chiefs, mechanics and fans.
“Hopefully, what I’ve done, what I’m doing, will bring more awareness,” he said.
Being America’s first black pro auto racing world champion has led to considerable recognition for Brown.
Just last week, Brown, who lives in Pittsboro, Ind., was among three championship racers honored by the Indiana Legislature and Gov. Mike Pence at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.
In February he was named to “TheGrio’s 100” list that features African-American industry, sports and community leaders. The list was announced on NBC’s “Today Show” as part of Black History Month.
Brown will be one of the most recognizable (and popular) drivers at Gatornationals this weekend.
On the NHRA circuit, Brown is part of a diverse group of drivers in the four pro classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle). Earlier this season, Courtney Force won in Funny Car at the opening race in Pomona. A week later Erica Enders-Stevens won in Pro Stock in Phoenix.
“NHRA doesn’t have a problem with diversity,” Brown said. “When you look at the grassroots of drag racing, you see it everywhere. It’s very diverse. On a Friday night at the track, everybody is racing. You’ll see whites, blacks, Hispanics, men, women, kids, teenagers. It’s one of the great things about drag racing.”
While growing up, Brown played high school basketball, soccer, football and ran track. He was fast enough in the 100-meter dash to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1997.
But it was speed on another kind of track that got in his blood early and stayed there, leading him to where he is today.
“My dad and uncle were drag-racing junkies,” Brown said. “They were racing Super Gas and Super Comp even before I was born. I grew up around the drag strips. It made me want to compete, in a car or on a motorcycle. It didn’t matter.”
Brown said he’s hoping his accomplishments in drag racing — especially his world championship in 2012 — will have a similar influence on some young kids around the country.
“That’s my deal,” he said.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.