BROWN GIVES CONTEXT TO DIVERSITY  - February brings a celebration of black history across America. And Antron Brown addressed the notion he’s still the only black champion in major American auto-racing history.

“It’s very humbling, and it’s been a blessing,” he said. “There were a lot of people that raced before me who paved the way for me. I had a lot of people that I looked up to, including my dad, my uncle, and my grandfather who started it off in my family. And then there were different people like Wendell Scott on the NASCAR side, James Stewart from SuperCross, as well as Lewis Hamilton in F1 overseas. To be one of those trailblazers is definitely a blessing, but it’s also part of my duty to go out here and let these younger kids and teenagers look at me and say, ‘If Antron Brown can do it, I can do it.’

“I want them to know that when I grew up I was just like them where I had the same dreams. I had a lot of determination and drive, but the thing was I never stopped,” Brown said. “I put myself out so when I got the opportunity, I was prepared to take the opportunity. That’s what I try to tell the kids today – ‘You’re going to get an opportunity, and when you do, you have to seize it and jump on it. And once you jump on, it’s going to be a bucking bull at first. So you have to hold on and eventually you’ll tame it down. Then you’re going to ride that wave and live that dream.’”

He said, “Drag racing has always been diverse. It’s not something they had to implement or put in. Drag racing has always been accessible to anyone, and there’s a level for everyone, regardless of what you’re driving.  You go to the dragstrip and race. My dad was drag racing before I was born. It doesn’t matter what race or color you are. People respect you for your machine and how fast you can go. Doesn’t matter if you’re running a station wagon. As long as you can match the number on the board, you’re taking home that money. That’s the unique thing about our sport: it’s always been wide open and accessible. There’s drag racing all over the place. There’s never been a need to make it diverse, because it’s been diverse since I was a kid.”

Both Antron Brown and wife Billie Jo, who are celebrating their wedding anniversary this week, have grown up in drag-racing families, his in New Jersey, hers in Louisiana. So naturally they passed along their passion to their children. All three have raced Junior Dragsters from an early age, and they’ve learned life lessons – the same ones Brown is learning as he and the Matco Tools Dragster team prepare for a run at a fourth Top Fuel championship: “You’ve got to put the work in. If you’re struggling, you’ve got to go test. If you want to get better, you’ve got to test to get it right.”

And, perhaps prophetically, 13-year-old Anson Brown spoke to his father’s 2018 title chase.

“By working hard, Anson won the Junior Dragster championship this past year,” Antron Brown said. “The funny thing was his speech at the championship when he got up and said, ‘Well, Dad, since you’re not going to win a championship this year, at least you can celebrate mine with me.’”

Despite advancing to 10 final rounds last season, winning four times, and compiling a 53-20 elimination-round record, Brown finished fourth in the Countdown last year. ”It’s definitely not where we want to finish. At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season,” he said, adding that “I feel the future is going to be bigger and brighter.”

Looking back, Brown said, “We got into the Countdown and our timing was off. We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have.  We fought through them, but we just seemed to be racing the wrong car at the wrong time. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better.  

“This is a new beginning for us,” he said, alluding to the rise of longtime crewman Brad Mason to co-crew chief with Mark Oswald following Brian Corradi’s departure to John Force Racing. “It’s going to be fun and exciting – and we’re coming after them.”

He said the (in his eyes) subpar performance “absolutely” strengthened his and his team’s resolve.

“We had a lot of shifting around this off-season, and it’s no big secret that we lost one of our crew chiefs. That’s a blow to us. It’s like losing one of your all-star players. But it also gives a chance for one of other guys in line to stand up,” Brown said. “Mark Oswald has run cars for us before, and he’s the lead. He’ll have Brad Mason by his side running this Matco Tools Toyota Dragster this year. A number of our guys stepped up, and we’ve made a couple of great additions. Now it’s a new chapter. We have some younger blood with Brad. Mark is so pristine on how he handles all the data and analyzes things. Brad’s been putting together our cars for years, so we’ll have a bright future with a good one-two punch. It re-energized me, as well. I’m learning more about the race car where I was more off it before. Now they’re filling me in and I feel the future is going to be bigger and brighter.”

Oswald concurred: “Last year, we had a better year than it appeared. It just didn’t end up that way. We didn’t have the good races when we needed to. We were stronger in the early part of the season. In the end, we’re all here for the championship. We’ve all won races, and it’s nice because that’s what pays the money. But for us, the championship is the prize.

“We were testing to get back on track and get some of the new guys acclimated to their jobs, as well as getting some of the other guys on the team transitioned into new positions. I’m tickled to death for Brad Mason. I know he’s going to do great,” Oswald said.

Brown said he, too, needed to get back into the groove: “This off-season I actually took more time off from the extra activities like TV [hosting] and going non-stop. I just shut it down and took December off, and then after Christmas I got back into the gym. I’ve been around the shop and seeing that the boys have it all under control. I’m rested. I’m fit and I’m ready to go.”