After a disappointing first-round lost at the season-opener in Pomona in February, 2012 Top Fuel champ Antron Brown bounced back at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix with a dominating win. This weekend, Brown and the rest of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series head to Florida’s Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville for the Amalie Oil NHRA GatorNationals, Thursday through Sunday, March 13th through 16th. It’s a track Brown heads to annually with a smile on his face.
“Every time I pull in there, you have to remember, that's where I started my career off in Gainesville in Pro Stock bikes,” remembered Brown in a recent NHRA teleconference. “Now to where I'm at in Top Fuel it's a big dream. Everybody knows Gainesville…It's one of the biggest races on our tour, and great, monumental things always happen there. From mile an hour records to E.T. records to world records. When I think of Gainesville, that's what comes out in my mind. It's the things that are actually broke there. Remember last year that we got Don Schumacher's 200th win there. Big things happen in Gainesville.”
One of the biggest things happening in the NHRA these days is the resurgence of Funny Car driver John Force, who wrapped up his 16th title last season at age 64. Brown sees Force’s passion as an important thing for the sport of drag racing.
“I think it's always great for the sport when you see somebody like John,” said Brown. “What people don't realize, it's not just him winning, it's showcasing the passion that he has for the sport. He's not racing because that's what he does to make a living. That's how he makes money. The man could retire whenever he wants to and still have a great life. He's racing because he loves it so much. And I share that same passion because I grew up around it…Anytime somebody races, they want to race the champ. They want to beat him because he's the most winning Funny Car driver of all time in NHRA. So when you see that, it definitely gives me goose bumps and chills down my spine when I see that. It's like, wow, that is definitely an amazing deal and it makes it important.”
“The other side also is that we just need to give credit to all the new upcoming drivers there too that are coming up there, like your Richie Crampton's and your Khalid alBalooshi, and all those people,” continued Brown. “Like your Brittany Forces, too, that are new to the game, and your Alexis DeJoria's that are putting the time in where they need to get a little credit too. That is one thing we do lack is that we don't give credit to all the new upcoming drivers and give them the recognition that they deserve.”
Brown, who became the first African-American to win a major auto racing championship with his 2012 title, has some advice for another youngster in a different form of racing: NASCAR’s Darrell Wallace Jr., who became just the second African-American to win in one of NASCAR’s top-tier series in 2013.
“My advice would be to Darrell to keep doing what he's doing,” said Brown. “I'm actually really good friends with Darrell. He has a really good demeanor where he's definitely got an open mind and is eager to learn and his determination. My deal is for him not to ever lose that. To never get to a point where you think you are the best. Even if you won that championship or you won a race, to never let that stuff sidetrack you, but to always keep focused, keep working and keep building….He's got the talent, he's got the drive, but to never stop working. To always constantly improve himself. When you do that, you stay on top of the curve and you stay at the top of your game.”
Pro qualifying for the 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA GatorNationals at Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville in Florida gets underway Friday at noon and 2:15 p.m. ET, with final rounds on Saturday at noon and 2:15 p.m. ET. Eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m. ET. Keep up with the action at www.nhra.com.
Quotes in this piece provided by the NHRA.
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