Antron Brown has always been a glass-half-full kind of guy — at least that’s how he sees it.
Thirteen races into the NHRA season, Brown didn’t have a win to show for his persistence behind the wheel of his Top Fuel dragster, but he wasn’t worried.
It had been an exciting start to the year for the three-time champion, as Brown made his debut as a team owner with AB Motorsports and strapped in for his 15th season of Top Fuel competition.
However, challenges inevitably arose as the season unfolded: the car performance wasn’t where it needed to be, the crew was still developing its synchrony on race weekends and Brown was continuing to adjust to his new role.
As a team owner, juggling various responsibilities on a race weekend while maintaining an elite standard in every aspect of business can be mentally draining. Add in the pressure to perform on the drag strip, and that’s about where Brown was before the team visited Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kan., in August.
“You know it’s going to be a lot of work, starting a new team. But it’s so hard to explain how to put all the puzzle pieces together,” Brown said. “It was tough. And it’s always going to be tough. Nothing that’s ever worth putting together is easy.”
Refusing to give up hope that a win was coming his way, Brown looked to his past two decades of drag racing experience for the simple reminder that everything would be OK.
Over the span of his career, Brown has been on teams that could do no wrong and where the Wallys came easy. He’s also been in the position where the wins didn’t come at all.
Building a team from the ground up was going to take some time and patience, and Brown knew that. He took on the doubt he received from media and peers head on, using it as a challenge to do what they had rendered impossible.
When he left Topeka with his first victory as a team owner — a history-making feat for AB Motorsports — it wasn’t relief he felt.
It was magic.
“Halfway through your first year, and you pop off a team win, that’s simply amazing. Simply amazing,” Brown said with a wide grin.
The progress he had witnessed in his team, from the opening round in February through the summer stretch of the season, was encouraging. AB Motorsports was growing and improving every weekend.
“Did I want it be a lot faster? Everybody does,” Brown said. “But for me, I know what it takes to move forward and sustain those results.”
He’s been gaining momentum mentally ever since the NHRA Northwest Nationals in Seattle — the round before Topeka. So naturally, as the series made its fated visit to the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Brown was confident that a victory was possible.
The team was putting in the effort, and the rest was up to Brown.
As eliminations ensued at the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend, Brown defeated Tripp Tatum, Steve Torrence and Justin Ashley on his way to the final round. With a 3.706-second elapsed time, Brown shot past point leader Brittany Force and claimed his second triumph of the season in his Matco Tools dragster.
“We took out some stout competitors to get that win, so that right there has definitely given us the boost that we need going into this Countdown to the Championship,” Brown said. “A win at Indy showed that we can beat the best of the best at their best.”
His belief in the potential of AB Motorsports has remained unchanged through the season. The wins that the team has achieved simply prove to the rest of the world he knew what he was doing.
From here on out, as the Countdown to the Championship begins, Brown sees no reason AB Motorsports shouldn’t be a top contender for the title.
“We’ve raced the top-tier cars,” Brown said. “And we’ve beat them. We’ve just got to keep bringing our A-plus level game.”
This weekend’s opening round of the playoffs at Pennsylvania’s Maple Grove Raceway, is in a sense a hometown race for the New Jersey-raised Top Fuel driver, giving him that much more motivation to reach the winner’s circle.
Brown will enter qualifying sixth in the standings, but with his state of mind, he might as well be first.