Brown on verge of unique feat
KENT, Wash. -- From the Rockies to the California wine country to the shadow of Mount Rainier in 14 days.
It's a grueling stretch of the NHRA schedule every year known as the Western swing -- three events over three consecutive weekends spanning 1,600 miles.
This weekend on the final stop of that journey at the NHRA Northwest Nationals (Sunday eliminations live on ESPN3, 2 p.m. ET; tape-delayed on ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 6 p.m. ET), Top Fuel driver Antron Brown can do something that never has been done. He can run the table on the Western swing for the second time in his career.
Winning all three to sweep the swing is a rare accomplishment, but it is a cherished achievement for any driver who adds it to his resume.
This is no easy task. Imagine an NBA player scoring 50 points in three consecutive games, a major league baseball player going 4-for-4 in three straight games or an NFL running back rushing for 200 yards three games in a row.
Only seven drivers in the past 20 years have managed to earn the sweep -- Funny Car legend John Force (1994), Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson (2004), and five drivers in a Top Fuel dragster -- Joe Amato (1991), Cory McClenathan (1997) Larry Dixon (2003), Tony Schumacher (2008) and Brown in 2009.
None of them have managed to do it again. Brown is one victory away from accomplishing that feat. And he doesn't want to count his chickens (or winning passes, in this case) before it happens.
The talkative and effervescent racer is a little uncomfortable even broaching the subject.
"We all know what's at stake," Brown said. "It's a big deal. It was a real treat to do it one time."
So Brown doesn't want to jinx this rare opportunity.
"It's not that I don't want to talk about it," Brown said. "It's just not how we do things. Our team is so steady. We are a one-step minded group. We really pride ourselves on going over every detail after every run. That's why we also don't talk about the championship. We're all about the here and now."
The here and now for Brown and the Matco Tools dragster is a chance at drag racing history while he's tied for the top spot in the season standings with his Don Schumacher Racing teammate, Spencer Massey.
Obviously, if Brown gets the sweep, he'll be all alone at the top with two races remaining before the six-race Countdown playoff begins.
He has a great chance at winning his first Top Fuel title, but he'll have to beat his DSR teammates to do it -- Massey, who finished second in 2011 to Del Worsham, and seven-time champ Schumacher, who is third in the 2012 standings, only 26 points back.
"Antron is a natural," Massey said. "He loves racing. He's one of those guys, like me, who lives and breathes this stuff. When he's not driving the dragster, he's racing his remote-control boats that he loves."
Brown, 36, made a rare transition in his career, switching to a dragster after racing 10 years in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. His first year in Top Fuel was 2008.
Funny Car veteran Ron Capps, now a teammate at DSR, was one of the first people to suggest to Brown that he could race four wheels instead of two.
"I told him he needed to get off the bikes," Capps said. "I just knew being around him that he had that same look in his eye that I had.
"I knew he was going to be good driving whatever they put him in. For that matter, I knew he was going to be good at whatever he did in life. He stays grounded, but he knows how to stay motivated."
Brown has finished in the top five in each of his four Top Fuel seasons, winning twice as a rookie. How did he do it so successfully in such an unusual transition?
It doesn't hurt that Brown is an accomplished athlete. He qualified for the Olympic trials in the 100-meter dash when he was 21.
But he also was doing some studious work long before anyone knew he wanted to race a dragster. When Brown was riding the Army-sponsored motorcycle, he was watching Tony Schumacher in the Army-sponsored dragster.
"Not many people know this, but I would watch Tony a lot," Brown said. "I really studied everything he did all weekend, in the pits and in the car. And I always watched his team work. I wanted to understand everything I could about the technology of it."
Antron learned what made the car go before he ever got in one. That's the reason he made such a big rise with such a steep learning curve.” -- Ron Capps
That's preparation waiting to meet opportunity. Some say that's when luck happens, but Brown didn't get this far on luck.
"Antron learned what made the car go before he ever got in one," Capps said. "That's the reason he made such a big rise with such a steep learning curve.
"Like me, he didn't come into this sport because of a family with millions of dollars. So you're only going to get one shot and he made the most of it."
Capps said there's one other factor that makes Brown successful. He is able to take constructive criticism and learn from his mistakes.
"There are way too many drivers out here with big egos who can't do that," Capps said. "Antron is no prima donna. He's a hard worker who listens."
Brown credits his crew chiefs, Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, with making him better. Oswald is a former Funny Car champion. Brown said neither man will hold back on what he thinks, good or bad.
"Those two guys have taught me so much," Brown said. "They are not shy about telling me when I do something wrong, and I never take it the wrong way. We don't get our feelings hurt on this team."
Now they have a chance to do something no team ever has done by sweeping the swing twice. Brown also has a chance this season to become an African-American champion in the NHRA.
"Honestly, it would be so special just to be a champion," Brown said. "That's the great thing about the NHRA. No one sees color or gender here.
"But for me, a guy born in Trenton, N.J., if me winning the championship makes some inner-city kid have hope and say, 'Hey, I can do that, too,' that would be awesome."