Defending NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel world champ Antron Brown has two wins this season and one No. 1 qualifying position but also has had five first-round losses at the last six events. He led the points earlier this season but currently rests in fifth place.
Q: Antron, how much of a roller-coaster season has this been for you and your guys?
Brown: It’s been one of those deals where we’ve just been fixing issues, different problems, different gremlins biting us. I guess from running so many laps that we do from the previous years and testing, we’re finally seeing some other things we’ve been working on biting us. The luck has been going the other way this year. We’ve just been attacking it with a lot of hard work, keeping our head down. We’re not going to quit. We saw some light at Chicago, which was two races ago, where we made it to the semifinals. The last race we went out and we went through all the rounds in qualifying. Definitely at the turning point. Lost a close first-round matchup against [Khalid] alBalooshi. The Western Swing coming up with the three races in a row has always been real good to us. We go out to Denver, do well. Sonoma, we win a lot. We pulled off a sweep back in ’09 in Seattle. Our idea is to get out to the Western Swing and turn everything around and be ready for the Countdown, and hopefully we can use this Western Swing to get back on the positive side of things.
Q: Winning the first one is tough. Winning the next one is really tough. Talk a little bit about repeating the championship.
Brown: Well, it’s going to be really, really tough. As you can see, our class just gets stronger and stronger each and every year. It’s a dogfight just to be in the top 10, to make the Countdown. I guarantee you, we have anywhere between 14 and 16 cars on any given Sunday that can win a race in Top Fuel. Everybody is cutting great lights, putting a consistent package together. With that being said, coming off last year from winning the championship, trust me, nobody is cutting our Matco Tools car any slack. We’ve just got to step up, and we have to be better than what we’ve been. I know [crew chiefs] Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald], our whole team and crew, we’re putting our heads down. We’ve been taking all the bumps and bruises, and we can feel that turn is coming up where we have to have that kind of turn come up. If not, our main goal is to focus and to contend for another championship. It’s definitely going to be 10 times harder than it was last time because everybody is throwing their best shot at us.
Q: Could you explain the differences between the next three tracks that are coming up? What is it that made it possible for you to win all three in a row four to five years ago?
Brown: We came real close to doing that again last year. The thing about it is, all three tracks are different. There’s nothing alike about them. When you go to Denver, Denver is all by itself. It’s the only racetrack we race at a high altitude where it’s hard for our nitro cars to make power. You’re using 30 percent of your power at Denver. That makes it tough on the crew chiefs. You have less oxygen, so you can’t burn as much fuel, have to cut the fuel back. You cut the fuel back, you have less power. It can get hot up there. When it gets hot up there, it makes it even worse.
Then you go from a place where you can’t make power to Sonoma, you’re at sea level, back to making killer power because you’re at sea level, and it also gets cool out there because you’re by the ocean. You have to make good power, have nighttime qualifying at Sonoma where you can get close to setting the e.t. record, run some mid- to low .70s on Friday night. Then you leave Sonoma where you have great conditions, you go up to Seattle; you’re still close to sea level up there. But Seattle gets hot that time of year; it gets humid, muggy. You’re not halfway in between them, but you come to a racetrack where you’re racing almost like at a, I would say, a Bristol, Tenn., or something like that, where you get decent air, good air, but then it gets muggy. So you have three different environments. What makes it even more taxing is that our crew guys are driving from track to track, out there working.
It’s like a marathon of races where you have to maintain, not to be worn out and try to stay upbeat, keep your mind right and focus while you’re being tired and trying to get the job done because it’s back to back to back. That’s what makes the Western Swing so grueling, all the climate changes, then the car for the crew chiefs to tune them, then for all your crewmembers, the drivers, and the crew chiefs, what they go through mind and body set of all the atmosphere conditions, too. Then trying to put all that together and maintain focus and do your job on Sunday and get those round-wins. It makes it taxing and grueling to win the Western Swing, almost impossible. Yet we were able to get it done back in ’09.
Q: You swept the Western Swing in 2009. Where do you rate that as far as your accomplishments? How important is the Western Swing because you’re coming down to the Countdown to the title?
Brown: Absolutely. When you go out on the Western Swing, it gets everybody in gear. Playtime is over. Everybody is really buckled down. They start finalizing what they’re going to run in the Countdown, whether it’s clutch disc or anything like that. Getting to the nitty-gritty. When they get the team, the driver, crew chief wants to get in the groove and get that symmetry going on. After the Western Swing, we have Brainerd, then we have the U.S. Nationals, then right after that, we’re right into the Countdown. This Western Swing can build you some momentum and give you some confidence. When you go into those races, you’re ready to be in attack mode for sure. The Western Swing has a big, big part of that.
Q: Antron, you mentioned when you were describing the differences between the three tracks that Sonoma always has been a good track for you. What is it about Sonoma that makes you a winner?
Brown: I think it’s one of those tracks that really just goes with our setup that we have in our race car as a team as a whole and the mind-set when you’re in Sonoma. When you get out there, you’re in Napa Valley, it’s like a breath of fresh air. It’s one of those racetracks where you’re more relaxed. The fans are incredible where they come by your pit, pump you up, push you and your team up, and it gets you going. When I go to Sonoma, I always take a deep breath, take it all in. I always have a lot of energy up there. You go up there, you kind of feel good. It’s like the air out there, the weather, it makes the car run good, but it also makes your human body feel good. It’s just the atmosphere around you that really makes our team really jell and do well in Sonoma. It fits the way we run our car, too, a lot.