MADISON, Ill. – official series release — NHRA photo —
Antron Brown got off to a fantastic start in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, winning the first of the six-race playoffs on Sunday in Charlotte.
Now Brown heads to a location where he has been unbeatable for the past three years, which may spell even more trouble for the rest of the loaded Top Fuel field.
Brown, the 2012 Top Fuel world champion, will take the points lead and plenty of momentum in his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools dragster into this weekend’s fourth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park. That’s good news for Brown, who has won the Countdown race in St. Louis the past three years, putting him in great position to add to his current nine-point lead over teammate and reigning world champion Tony Schumacher.
“You need to put your A game together to get off to a great start (in the Countdown),” Brown said. “You want to start off strong because it’s a sprint now. There are six races for the championship. Do the math. There’s (20) rounds of racing left, and the more rounds you win, the less other people have to catch you. Our main focus is one round at a time. We just let the chips fall where they fall, and we give it all we have.”
Courtney Force (Funny Car), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) joined Brown as winners of the event one year ago. The lucrative event just outside of St. Louis is the second of six playoff races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and comes at a pivotal time for any driver chasing a championship.
Brown put himself in a great position to claim a second world championship with a strong performance in Charlotte, which means another impressive performance in St. Louis might be coming. Brown had been solid throughout the entire regular season, winning four events, but the team, led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, constantly tried to push forward.
It led to some bumps, like first-round losses late in the regular season in Denver and Seattle, but the team found something extremely beneficial right before the Countdown during a test session in Indy leading up to the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Brown won the Traxxas Nitro Shootout during the weekend and took plenty of confidence into the Countdown.
“We’ve been doing different things, but our car was really getting aggressive on the starting line,” Brown said. “They wanted to put together the best combo we can have for the Countdown. The testing at Indy gave a great combination that can run great in the heat and run great when the conditions are good. We ran some really good numbers in the heat of the day (on Sunday). We’re working on different stuff and it’s paying dividends. That Indy test was monumental. It got us back on track and it panned out for us (in Charlotte).”
Brown impressed during eliminations, helped by a strong Saturday qualifying runs, picking up his 52nd career victory, 36 of which have been in Top Fuel. But while it looked like business as usual throughout eliminations, as Brown dispatched Terry McMillen, Steve Torrence, Schumacher and J.R. Todd in the final round, the first final round in NHRA history to be contested by African-American drivers, he admitted emotions ran high early on.
“I’m usually cool, calm, collected and I’ve been in a lot of high-pressure situations,” Brown said. “(Sunday) first round, for the first time throughout any Countdown we’ve ever been to, I was thinking about what was at stake. I never do that. I just race. When I got back, Brian and Mark looked at me, and they asked what happened.
“They looked at me, and they pulled the reigns in on me and told me that this wasn’t any different and to just do what you do. They told me to have fun with it, and that’s when I got back into my zone for the second round and had that same mindset through the finals, just to have fun. That’s the whole name of the game.”
There will be plenty of pressure-filled moments in St. Louis, as Brown will try to make it four straight victories at Gateway Motorsports Park. The competition will be tough as usual and includes Richie Crampton, who has four wins in 2015, three-time world champion Larry Dixon, who sits in third, Todd, who moved to fourth with his strong start in Charlotte, Doug Kalitta, Torrence, Brittany Force and Connolly.
Brown might also get another marquee matchup with Schumacher, which proved to be a monumental face-off in Charlotte with Brown getting the win on Sunday.
“We had already had a good start and went some rounds, but if he took us out it and he won the race it would be a 70-point swing,” Brown said. “That was a crucial round for us to keep the points close and stay in that battle with him. All of our Matco boys did an exceptional job navigating and making the changes they need to do to win. I’m blessed to be on the team that I’m on and we’re going to keep on pushing.”
CREDIT: National Hot Rod Association