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Driver fueled by speed, not color

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by Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer

Antron_BrownWhat NASCAR wouldn’t give to have a driver like Antron Brown.

Brown, 33, is gregarious, talented, African American and No.1 in the Top Fuel rankings heading into this weekend’s Carolinas Nationals at zMax Dragway in Concord.

Brown has gone very fast for a very long time. Shortly after the training wheels were taken off his bicycle at age 4, he started riding a kid-sized motorcycle. And while racing motorcycles remained a passion for much of his life, he also became good at going fast in a more low-tech way.

As a 5-foot-8, 150-pound sprinter growing up in New Jersey, Brown ran track in high school and at a junior college. He said a handheld stopwatch once clocked him at 10.15 seconds in the 100-meter dash. If he had continued to improve, he would have had a shot at making the Olympic trials.

But machines went much faster than that, and they have always held the biggest allure for Brown. His father and uncle were weekend-warrior drag racers, using the sport to take a break from the family’s septic tank business. They have raced recreationally for decades in the sport and still do today.

“They’re to blame for all of this,” Brown said, laughing, in a recent phone interview from his home in Pittsboro, Ind.

Brown’s big break came in 1997. NFL cornerback Troy Vincent, also from New Jersey, had recently married one of Brown’s cousins. Vincent wanted to start a motorcycle racing team. He called Brown – who was sitting in his college dorm room at the time – and asked if he would like to drive a very fast motorcycle.

“I owe a lot to Troy,” Brown said. “That’s where it really got started for me.”

Brown raced Pro Stock motorcycles for the next 10 years, winning 16 titles. He came close to the overall Pro Stock championship on several occasions – finishing second in 2001 and 2006 – but never won one.

“That’s why I’m tired of being the bridesmaid and ready to be a bride this year,” he said.

In 2008, Brown switched from a motorcycle to a Top Fuel dragster. He now drives for Mike Ashley.

Although the motorcycles had gone very fast, the 300-mph dragster felt even faster to Brown.

“I’ve been skydiving before,” he said, “and that can’t hold a candle to a Top Fuel dragster. It’s like driving the space shuttle but staying on the ground.”

He won two events in his rookie Top Fuel season in 2008 and finished second in the inaugural Carolinas Nationals. At season’s end, he was fifth in points.

This season, Brown enters the six-race NHRA playoff system that starts this weekend – it’s called the Countdown To One – as the No.1 seed. He has already won five races this season.

Brown, who has a wife and three children, said he doesn’t consider himself a trailblazer in auto racing. He is, however, one of the few African-Americans to have succeeded at one of motorsports’ highest levels as a driver.

“I’ll tell you who a trailblazer is – John Force,” Brown said. “Now there’s a success story. I came from a normal, middle-class home. He came from a poor background and now he has built a racing empire and has won all these world championships. He is a big hero to me.”

Brown would like to follow in Force’s footsteps – eventually becoming a part-owner of his own team and the winner of multiple championships.

“Now, though,” he said, “I just need to get that first one.”


Written by Symphony

September 17, 2009 at 12:25 pm

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