SONOMA, Calif. — Sweeping the famed Western Swing is no longer possible for reigning Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown, but there is plenty on the line for the two-time world champion at this weekend’s 29th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.
Brown is the defending event winner of the second of three races on the Western Swing, and a win this year would tie Doug Kalitta for the most in Top Fuel history at the track with five. There is also the matter of maintaining his points lead in the star-studded class heading into the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, which is just four races away.
Those two aspects will have Brown in top form in his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster, along with the fact he considers Sonoma Raceway one of his favorites on the NHRA circuit.
“Our game plan is just to keep going rounds and keep putting rounds between us (and Kalitta) and to go into the Countdown with the points lead,” said Brown, who stretched his points lead over Kalitta with a final round appearance in Denver. “We’re trying to win another championship; that’s our goal and it starts right now.”
“The mountain (in Denver) tried to kick our butt a little bit in qualifying, but (crew chiefs) Mark (Oswald), Brian (Corradi), and this whole Matco crew did what they always do and that’s figure it out, and we always put our best foot forward to race competitively on race day. I couldn’t be more proud to be on this team and doing what we are doing. We are looking forward to Sonoma.”
The event will be televised by the FOX national broadcast network for the first time. It is the 15th of 24 events during the 2016 season and the track, a favorite for fans and racers alike, has yielded some incredible performances over the years.
That includes Brown’s win a year ago, which is something he doesn’t take for granted. He has three more wins in 2016, giving him 57 for his career, but visiting the winner’s circle never gets old for Brown, in part because of how difficult it always is to get there.
“It is so easy to lose in NHRA racing, but that is what makes it so rewarding and just so great to win,” said Brown, who has 41 career Top Fuel wins. “That is why when you win you know you have done something special and you make part of history within the NHRA because wins don’t come every day to everybody. When you win that is why it is so special. We win and work hard and do that together.”
Brown’s Matco Tools team has once again been brilliant throughout the season, giving Brown the performance and consistency to lead a Top Fuel class loaded with talent. They battled through the challenges of racing at an altitude of more than 5,800 feet in Denver this past weekend, and will have Brown’s dragster set to run fast this weekend in Sonoma.
“They have the will and when you have the will it will overcome everything,” Brown said. “You can be talented, you can be a natural but when you have the will and the work ethic, you make the great things happen, like our team has. Since 2009 we have been together, Brian and Mark as our two crew chiefs, Brad (Mason) my assistant crew chief and all my Matco guys, we have been together and have that will. I think that is what makes us go out and compete the way we do.”
Staying at the forefront of the class won’t be easy and Brown appreciates every round win. Kalitta’s five Top Fuel victories in Sonoma leads the class and he won three straight races earlier this season, but Brown knows the challenges don’t stop there.
Don Schumacher Racing teammate and eight-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher knocked off Brown in Denver for his first win of the year, while other challengers in Sonoma include Steve Torrence, Brittany Force and Shawn Langdon, who each have two wins this year, J.R. Todd, Clay Millican and Richie Crampton.
“To just get to the semifinals is like you won a race this year,” Brown said. “To bring a Wally home has been extremely tough. We thought we could have a couple more wins than we have this year but we are just happy to pull off three of them. There are a lot of great teams. I think we still have a lot more room to grow and have a lot to do to be competitive in this Countdown to the Championship.”
CREDIT: NHRA Communications