Given NHRA’s impressive history of diversity since Wally Parks founded the world’s largest motorsports sanctioning body in 1951, it might be surprising to some that there hasn’t been an African-American driver celebrate a world championship in NHRA’s marquee Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
Female and Hispanic drivers have won NHRA world championship titles, including Shirley Muldowney, Angelle Sampey, Cruz and Tony Pedregon and Hector Arana Sr., and many African-American drivers have participated in and won Full Throttle Series races over the years. I
f Antron Brown can have a successful finish to his incredible 2012 Top Fuel season, he will make history as the first African-American to win an NHRA pro series title, as well as the first to win a major auto racing crown in the U.S.
Brown brings a 65-point lead to the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 8-11, at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in the hot-rodding hotbed of Southern California. If he can outlast championship rivals Tony Schumacher, Spencer Massey and Shawn Langdon at that event, he will earn the title that he’s worked so hard to achieve during his 15-year drag racing career.
“This is a huge dream for me and for the kids who are out there now,” Brown has said. “If it helps anybody else change their dream or their story, I’m all for it. Looking at color and different stuff like that, I’m just an American. I love it. I embrace the sport, and that’s where I stand with it.”
Brown has had a great season, racing to six victories in 11 final round appearances and posting three No. 1 qualifying positions at the controls of his 8,000-horsepower Matco Tools dragster. After building a 104-point lead following the fourth race in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Brown hit a rough spot at the penultimate event in Las Vegas.
His team posted their worst qualifying position of the season (13th) and lost in the first round and scored only 31 points in the event. Seven-time world champ Schumacher took advantage of Brown’s misstep and was the top qualifier and runner-up and moved to second in the standings, cutting Brown’s lead to 65. Massey is in third place, 70 points back.
“We lost some points, but we’ll go into Pomona with the lead,” Brown said. “Our Matco boys are going to keep working hard. We had a lot of things go wrong (at Las Vegas) that usually never goes wrong, like the clutch management system breaking, electrical wires breaking. All these little nitpicky gremlins came out that weekend.”
Brown, who had an opportunity to win the championship title last season, says he continues to learn from setbacks and works hard to stay positive and keep moving forward.
“It is what it is, and that’s drag racing,” Brown said. “The bad part is that we’ve let these other guys get back in it, but that’s okay. It’s the Countdown to the Championship. We’re going to hit Pomona and we’re going to give it our best shot and give it all we got.”
One thing is for sure, Brown will be tested at Pomona. FRAM dragster driver Massey is as hungry as ever to win his first championship title and he won the season-opening Winternationals at this track.
Meanwhile, Schumacher, who has won this event four times, has a legendary history at this track, where he used last race heroics to win series titles in 2006 and 2007. Brown certainly doesn’t want to become the latest victim of a magical Schumacher come-from-behind performance.
“We’re going to keep on pressing,” Brown said. “We’re not whipped. We’ll keep digging and make sure everything is working the way it’s supposed to and be ready for Pomona. One thing is that the good Lord is an able guy, he never gives you anything you can’t handle. Things happen for a reason and this is all part of it. We’ve put ourselves in a good position in case something like this happened.”
No matter the outcome, Brown has a special way of keeping everything in perspective. He understands that he’s come a long way from growing up in Chesterfield, N.J. and dreaming of becoming an NHRA world champion. Right now, he’s in the middle of living that dream.
“We’ve just been very fortunate, and I’m just staying humble,” Brown said. “You’ve just got to be humble because, if not, the sport will humble you and make you cringe. You go from hero to zero in our sport, and that’s why I just keep the same attitude I always have.”