Antron Brown is excited about the coming NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season despite entering it without long-time co-crew chief Brian Corradi and not being able to return to race at his hometown track in June.

Corradi decided after the past season to leave Brown and Don Schumacher Racing to join John Force Racing’s Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car driven by Courtney Force. He will be co-crew chief with Danny Hood, who Corradi hired in 1999 at Dean Skuza Racing to give him his first full-time drag racing job.

This week, Brown was hit with another blow when Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, announced it was immediately ceasing all drag racing activities and its 48-year tradition of hosting the NHRA Summernationals has ended.
Englishtown is 30 miles from Brown’s hometown of Chesterfield.

“That was a place where a lot of people’s dreams became reality — including mine,” Brown told The Trentonian newspaper after Wednesday’s announcement. “That’s what helped develop my love for the sport of NHRA drag racing, and just to know that a part of that’s gone now ... it’s sad.”

The ever optimistic and ebullient Brown is adjusting to both changes.

Brown’s Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota team will be led by Mark Oswald, who had been co-crew chief with Corradi on the team since 2009. Brad Mason will move up to assistant crew chief from the car chief role that will be filled by Kyle Weekley, another DSR veteran. Only one crewman left to join Corradi at JFR.

Mason has worked with Brown since both were at David Powers Motorsports in 2009.

“Brad has stepped up as the assistant crew chief. He’s been doing almost everything to manage our team at the shop anyway,” Brown said, explaining Corradi worked mostly from his home near Cleveland and Oswald lives near New Orleans.

“Brad has built cars, helped problem solve and diagnose things at the track for us. He could run a Top Fuel car by himself.”

Brown won three NHRA Top Fuel world championships since 2012, and 47 Wally trophies with Corradi, Oswald and Mason. He understands why Corradi decided to make the move so he could return to his roots in Funny Car racing.

“Danny is a good dude,” Brown said. “He’s been close to Brian and his family for a long time so I wasn’t surprised when Brian went to work with him. I want whatever is best for Brian.”

He said the team’s changes seem to have led them to having a more focused approach to the comping season that opens with testing Jan. 31 near Phoenix.

“It’s been a lot of fun for us because it’s a new experience,” said Brown, 41, who will start his 20th season in the Mello Yello Series and 10th in Top Fuel.

“Our off-season has been good. It gave other people a chance to move up, and Mark has run a car by himself before and had success.

“Our game plan is to get better and better and better. We’ll be competitive like we’ve always been. It’s time for us to reach a new level.”

He was able to step up his demanding workout program when any future filming for the cable show “Top Gear America” was delayed until no sooner than later this year. He spent much of last year away from home for long stretches to film his role as co-host.

“I was able to take time off in December to be home and work on a new house and shop we’re building, and I didn’t travel at all in January.

“I’m coming in in better shape than I’ve ever been. I’m re-energized and excited.” - Jeff Wolf

Three-time world champion crew chief Brian Corradi has been successful in life and racing because of his analytical and calculated approach and family support.

Without that, he and former co-crew chief Mark Oswald would not have been able to lead Antron Brown to 41 Top Fuel titles and three NHRA world titles over the past nine seasons at Don Schumacher Racing. The trio also won six titles with Mike Ashley Racing.

After winning four times and finishing fourth in the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel standings, he decided it was time for a major change.

So for the second straight year, John Force Racing was able lure away a hall-of-fame crew chief from DSR. Jimmy Prock left the operation after two years to rejoin Force and went on to win the NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car world championship.

A year later, Corradi decided to begin tuning Courtney Force’s Advance Auto Funny Car.

“Who knows how much longer I’m going to want to do this," said Corradi, who will be 51 in February. "In five years, I want to be easing my way out of racing. That’s all I’ve done for the middle part of my life.”

His career began in 1996 as a clutch specialist for high school friend Dean Skuza.

“Going back to a Funny Car is a new challenge. I also wanted to work with Jimmy more,” Corradi said. “We had a lot of the same ideas when he was at DSR. A lot of things helped with making this decision, but those are the two biggest reasons.”

“We wish Brian well, and we’ll always be family,” said Brown who first worked with Corradi and Oswald in 2009. “I love him. He’s my brother.

“Sometimes people want a chance to do different things. I think he feels he has fulfilled all his goals in Top Fuel by winning three championships and we contended every year we were together. Now he wants to go to Funny Car and get one there. I understand.”

Oswald will be Brown’s sole crew chief this year with longtime car chief Brad Mason moving up to the assistant’s role.

The move also allows Corradi to work again with Danny Hood, who he hired as a 17-year-old crewman at Dean Skuza Racing in 1999 . As a result, Hood eventually met and soon began dating former Funny Car driver Ashley Force in 2006. The following year Hood joined JFR, and the next year he and Ashley were married.

“There are those family connections for Brian at JFR and we’re all about family here,” said John Force, who owns 16 world championships as a driver and another four as a team owner.

The Corradi family’s ties to Hood include Corradi’s wife of 29 years, Jackie, and their two sons, Nick and Sean, now ages 29 and 27, respectively.

“Danny was a little older than my boys but he’d come over to play video games with them after he got his driver’s license,” Corradi said. “Danny was always at our house and Jackie is like a second mom. She refers to him as her other son.”

When Corradi joined JFR it allowed Force to move Ronnie Thompson from his daughter’s Funny Car to the team of reigning Top Fuel world champion Brittany Force.

“I told John I would not go over and start by running his Top Fuel team because I didn’t want to race Antron and that team,” Corradi said. “But I’ve always been a team player and will do whatever is best for the organization I’m working for.

“I thought about leaving DSR and going to Force after we won the championship in 2016, but the time wasn’t right.”

The move was more to join Force than to leave DSR.

“Don was really good to me,” said Corradi, first hired by Schumacher in 2006 to be crew chief for Mike Ashley in a Funny Car. “Don never bothered me. My job was to win rounds and races, and do my job without wasting money. He never gave me any grief.”

Corradi will continue to commute from his home near Cleveland to JFR headquarters in Brownsburg, Indiana, much like he did while at DSR and previous teams.

When home, Corradi prepares for races and helps his family operate the five Master Pizza restaurants they own. 

Switching from one dominant drag racing operation to another is nothing like the risk he and Jackie took in 1996 when he left a solid, well-paying job at a Cleveland car dealership as a heavy line mechanic to join the Skuza team for not much more than minimum wage.

“I ran into Dean at our 10-year (Nordonia Hills) high school reunion in 1995 and started going to some races with him.”

After traveling to a few, Corradi knew what he had to do. And so did Jackie.

“I got hooked,” he said.

“I had two young kids at home and Jackie and I hadn’t been married that long. Dean’s dad didn’t want me leave them and go on the road but we convinced him.”

As one of the higher paid crew chiefs, that gamble paid off for Corradi and for every team he’s led.