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Portrait of a champion- Antron Brown has never settled for anything, and his persistence landed him in the drivers seat on the highest level of drag racing. Photo by Jason Lewis
Antron Brown hits speeds of 330 mph in only 3.7 seconds. The type of car that he races is the fastest accelerating vehicle on the planet. Photo by Jason Lewis
Brown won the Full Throttle Top Fuel World Championship at Pomona
Drag car racer Antron Brown won the NHRA's Full Throttle Top Fuel World Championship this past weekend at the Pomona Speedway, making him the first African American to win an American auto racing championship (that includes NASCAR, Formula 1, and other racing circuits).
"I'm besides myself because I feel so blessed to be in this moment right now," Brown said. "I'm glad we could bring this home for DSR (Don Schumacher Racing). It feels incredible."
Brown has that incredible feeling every time he straps himself in his race car and speeds down the 1,000 foot track in 3.7 seconds, hitting speeds of 330 mph.
"It's one of those feels that you can't try because there is nothing on the planet that comes close to what we do," Brown said. "When you drive a top fuel car, you're driving the fastest accelerating vehicles on the planet. It's quicker than the space shuttle being launched into outer space and it is quicker than a jet fighter plane being catapulted off of an aircraft carrier. We're traveling 100 mph in less than a second. It's like when you were a kid and you watched Battle Star Galactica or Star Wars, and they used to go to warp drive. This is the closest to that."
Brown has been working towards this moment for the bulk of his life, as he grew up in a racing family. His grandfather caught his father and uncle racing on the streets, and he came down on them pretty hard. But he saw that his sons were interested in auto racing, and he wanted them to be safe, so he took them down to the drag strip so that they could race in a safe and controlled environment.
Brown's father and uncle were weekend racers in sportsmen race leagues, where Brown was introduced to the sport at a young age.
Drag racing may be the best form of auto racing that is suited to Brown. As an athlete, he also was a track star, running the 100-meter dash in the 10.3 range while at Long Island University, and if he had continued with the sport, he may have ended up in the Olympics. Brown was at his best during the indoor track season, when he was winning titles in the 55-meter dash, which is similar to drag racing in that it is a short track, and it is all about the start off the line.
"In track you go off the gun and you hit it," Brown said. "That first 40 meters, I owned it. I was the one out, and I was the one in front of everybody.
Brown changed gears from running on the track to driving down it.
"Our gun here is a tree," Brown said. "You see all three ambers and you take off."
Brown points out that auto racing is more diverse than what people would think. The lower levels of the sport is extremely diverse. On the level that he is at, which is the highest level of the sport, out of 20 sponsored drivers, two of them are African American, which is close to the national average of black people in the United States. Brown also points out that it is not about race, but if you can win or not.
"It doesn't make a difference how much money you make," Brown said. "It depends on, do you have a fast car? Did you put this combination together right? My dad and uncle raced back in the early 70s. They just went out there and raced. You get respect in this sport, not for who you are, or what you are, or what culture you are, or where you came from, or what nationality you are. They give you respect for how you carry yourself, and what type of racer you are. It's just like when football became integrated back in the day, people started giving the ball players respect because of their talent."
Brown's grandfather gave him some great advice on how to deal with the race issues.
"My grandpa told me, 'I went through a lot growing up, but the world is better now. So do not carry a chip on your shoulder for what happened in the past. Always walk in the future.' And he always told me, 'You know what cures prejudice and racism? Excellence. And when you execute excellence, nobody can ever deny that fact."
Brown was very persistent and he worked hard to get to the top of his sport. After a successful career racing motorcycles, he made the jump to auto racing when he was sponsored by the Army. He learned a lot while racing for the army, and one thing stuck out the most, which was also what his father, who served in the army for 26 years, taught him. It was never to settle.
"I was like, since I'm already out here in pro-stock bike, I'm out here," Brown said. "That's half the battle. I'm out here every weekend. Why can't I be in one of these cars? Why can I not go and chase my real dream? So that's what I started doing. I started politicking, talking to crew chiefs, and talking to different teams, and trying to feel how I can actually get into one of these cars."
Brown's hard work and winning track record paid off, and when the Matco Tools race team had an opening, he was given the opportunity, and he has kept up his winning ways.
Brown is a family man, with a wife and three children, but being away from home can be tough. His dedication to religion helps him stay on task. His race team has a weekly bible study, and he attends weekly service with Racers for Christ.
"We spend over 185 days in the year on the road, away from home," Brown said. "So we need something while we're away from home. That is something that keeps us going in the right direction. It keeps our relationship with Christ strong."
Brown is a great guy, and a very good role model. He is blazing a trail that other black auto racers will be able to follow.
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