2012 NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown is, in many ways, a trendsetter. As the first African-American to win the sport's top title, the eyes of people who may not necessarily be fans of drag racing are sometimes drawn to him. Most true fans of the sport, however, don't see him as a black man who drives a racecar, but as a racecar driver who happens to be black.
He has had a varied career, competing at the highest level in both NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle and the NHRA Top Fuel eliminator classes. Recently, the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner was able to interview Antron on a wide variety of topics, and found that his love of the sport is as powerful as his vision for the future of it.
1. Why did you decide to get involved in auto racing?
"Racing is something I’ve always loved. I love the speed, the excitement and the adrenaline – like when you get into racing and you’re racing somebody side by side. You’re trying to beat them to a stripe, and you have all that horsepower that you are trying to harness and keep hooked up and keep the car right. It gets my juices flowing, it drives me and there’s nothing else I can see myself doing but driving a racecar."
2. Off the top of my head, I can think of ten classes of cars that compete in drag racing. Do you think that the NHRA should consolidate its class structure?
"I think they offer a lot of variety for a lot of people to do in sports and I think they should keep the variety like they have in sportsman. In the pro race, I think it would be kind of neat to take a route to “mix and mingle” – to actually mix our top field car with a funny car, where you can make a complete car that is safer to drive and you make one pro class in the fuel ranks. So when you are racing for a championship you can be racing for a million bucks and save 500 grand. And then you can race to your John Force’s and get your Larry Dixon’s – you get what I mean? Where you can race all the elite people. Like, I can go race against my teammate Ron Capps, or I can race against Johnny Grey or...Tony Schumacher, he can go out there and he can go race against a Cruz Pedregon. You’ll mix up all the big names in our sports and the past champions. We can race each other and I think it would be kind of neat to have 5 rounds of racing where you have a 32 car field that qualifies on Sunday, which is creating a little more spice. I think you can make the sport safer, more unique, and a lot more competitive."
3. What is your favorite moment from the 2012 season? Least favorite?
"My favorite moment was definitely Redding, Pennsylvania, even though we didn’t win the race. It pretty much set the tone for what happened to win the championship – we went out there, didn’t qualify number 1 but somewhere around 5th or 7th, and we actually ran a career best ET; we won a 375 so we thought we did good, but not for the top spot. But then on race day we went out there, kept our heads down, and we went out there and set the world record. Then we had it taken away from us, and then we went back to reclaim it again and made it to the final round. It was that run where we reclaimed the world record pretty much that set us up and gave us the points that we needed to actually clench the championship.
My least favorite moment was in Pomona, just sitting there waiting to see if we won the championship. We weren’t racing anymore because we had a fuel line that actually blew apart on the race car, and we had nothing we could do but just sit there and watch what was going on. That’s the worst feeling in the world."
4. How do you feel about the current pro fields for NHRA? Are there enough cars to make for a good show?
"Oh absolutely. It’s not just about enough cars anymore – we have some stout competition! If you look at last year, we had ten different teams, ten different cars, that won races last year in Top Fuel. We’ve been winning and losing races in Top Fuel by less than 2000th to 1000th of a second at over 320 miles an hour. I mean Top Fuel racing gets no better than that! And we were always the kings of the sport, but I think we are almost the kings of racing right now because of how closely we are winning and losing races to each other."
5. Do you feel that Dodge’s departure from NASCAR will affect their participation in the NHRA at all?
"I think it will affect their participation a lot and actually help them grow more. I think they’re going to participate more in drag racing because, at the end of the day, drag racing’s always been there at a grassroots level. Like Mopar, Chevy, and now it’s Toyota – it’s their grassroots, this is where they came from. When you think about back in the day, you think about the big hemis, and they derived their whole racing atmosphere around them from drag racing. They are known from drag racing so I think they are going to go back from where they came."
6. What was your favorite thing about the preseason test at Palm Beach International Raceway?
"The location! It’s down in West Palm Beach at an awesome facility. We get to go there, we can run hard, the track’s always prepared really well, and our fans come out even though we don’t have a race – definitely makes the experience there very cool and lets us touch an area we don’t usually get to go to."
7. Do you think that the recent acquisition of the IHRA by the owners of PBIR will affect the future NHRA testing there?
"I can’t see that being a problem because it hasn’t really affected it in the past. It’s definitely been a place a great place to go and test because it’s really about the facility. It’s not like we’re putting a race show on. We are going out there to perform tests and do what it takes to get ourselves ready. It’s always got the prime conditions – at the right time of year, you don’t have to worry about snow hitting the ground – and it’s not far for us to travel to from Indianapolis where the majority of us are based."
8. Do you think that Valvoline NextGen motor oil helped you in your quest for the 2012 Top Fuel championship?
"Absolutely! I mean Valvoline’s been with us for several years and they never put out a product that doesn’t perform. And one thing I know is that everybody that runs their oil doesn’t have problems and that’s a good thing. When we ran NextGen on the side everyone was a little bit skeptical because it was “going green” and “it’s recycled oil.” But when they put their head down, they put all their engineers to the test – and they make an oil that’s recycled just as good or better than the oil that drivers use every day. And that’s what’s so cool about having NextGen in our car – because it’s proven. I mean if it wasn’t, if the oil didn’t hold up, we wouldn’t have gone out there and won all those rounds and set all those world records or come close to winning the championship."
9. Can you compare and contrast the NHRA Pro Bikes and Top Fuel?
"Can I compare Pro Bikes to Top Fuel? I think the contrast of the bike and the car, and the craziest part of it, is that when you sit on a motorcycle you control it by your hips, by your waist, and by feel, and use your whole body language to actually maneuver and dictate the bike down the racetrack. When you sit into a Top Fuel Car, you have to be just as graceful as you are on a bike, but you have to do it with your hands. It’s like you can see where you need to be, but you need to guide it there with your hands by the steering wheel. And that was a little different for me to get used to, because I was used to almost leaning and moving my body to where I needed to go. The first time I got into a Top Fuel Car, I tried that but it kept on going the same direction so I figured out how to use that steering wheel."
10. What are your goals and expectations for 2013?
"Our goal for 2013 is to go out there and contend for a championship and win another championship. We know it’s gonna be a lot of hard work, so our expectation is to just keep our head down to the grind, expect nothing, but execute excellence all the way. That’s what it’s gonna take to get it done. Last year we came real close to not getting it done, but we did get it done, and now we know what it takes. So we know we have to be right and prime when that countdown comes to be in attack mood and get after it."
11. What’s your favorite things about interacting with fans of the sport?
"I think my favorite thing about interacting with the fans of the sport is just to see the reaction; to see how passionate they are about NHRA racing and hear their response on how things are going. Even just these past few weeks, the fan response in Pomona and Phoenix – when they’re all in my corner, standing up – it gives me the energy to keep pushing on, to get back in the car, and stay motivated. It’s awesome to have their support and their love and hear how what we do on the race track affects their everyday life. It’s really unique."
12. How was your off season?
"My off season was very good. It was very busy, but I had some good times. My wife and I took a vacation and went on a cruise – we weren't out on a cruise ship that broke down, you know so obviously that cruise ship was not using Valvoline NextGen, you know! But we had a really good time and it was really good to just relax and collect ourselves before we went into the race season because it was much needed."
The West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner would like to thank Alexandra Bocci, Mohammed Dieye, Antron Brown and the entire Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel team for helping to make this interview possible. In the next few weeks, this column hopes to feature interviews with other superstars of auto racing, such as 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne. Stay tuned!
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