CONCORD, N.C. (April 11, 2014) – Antron Brown and the Matco Tools Top Fuel team were a little distracted Friday on opening day of the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals near Charlotte Motor Speedway but it was well worth it for Antron and the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
Three-time All-Pro NFL wide receiver Steve Smith and his son Boston joined the Matco Tools team during the first of two qualifying days, and Smith was as wide-eyed as Antron will be when Smith returns to favor and gets Antron on the sidelines with him and his Baltimore Ravens teammates when they visit the Indianapolis Colts this season.
“It was just a pleasure to have him out here for the NHRA Mello Yello race,” Antron said. “We’re just kicking back and having fun.”
Antron and the team led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald were anything but distracted Saturday.
The Matco team posted to quickest runs in each of the last two qualifying sessions with a best time of 3.794 seconds at 320.89 mph on its fourth and final lap. That run vaulted Antron to the No. 4 qualifying position heading to Sunday’s eliminations.
The fifth annual Four-Wide at zMAX features heats of four drivers in two pair of lanes separated by a center dividing wall at the world’s only four-lane dragstrip. The top-16 qualified cars meet Sunday in elimination rounds again in four-car heats with the first two crossing the finish line advancing to the next round. In the championship round, four finalists race for the event title, runner-up position and the other two earn semifinals championship points.
Smith, a longtime Charlotte resident who signed a three-year, $11 million contract with the Ravens a day after he was released March 13 after 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers, sat in Antron’s Don Schumacher Racing Top Fueler while the team started it in preparation for Friday’s second run.
It was an eye-opening experience for Smith.
“I’ve been behind the wheel of a NASCAR (stock car) but I think this is more advanced with all the details and the margin for error is a lot less. (The Top Fuel cockpit) is more of a confined space. Being an athlete and seeing all the things that go on behind the scene shows there is much more of a science to it.
“This team and these guys put so much work into it. That’s another level I didn’t know about it,” said Smith, who said he often watches NHRA telecasts on ESPN2.
“That’s unbelievable. Just watching them break down the car and put it back together in less than 35, 40 minutes. And seeing the G’s and the force that machine produces, that’s a lot of mathematics that I didn’t pay enough attention to in school (to understand).
“As athletes we come across things and say ‘I could do it.’ I couldn’t do it. I could try but you can’t do what these men and women have been doing and perfecting since they were young kids. You can’t just roll out of bed and think you’re going to be a driver.
“These drivers are athletes.”
Antron, an all-around high school athlete in high school and a star sprinter in junior college, always enjoys introducing another world-class athlete to NHRA drag racing.
“It was just another competitor enjoying another competitor doing what he does,” said Antron, who starts Sunday ranked second in Top Fuel points.
“We have great respect for one another. When you’re an athlete at the top levels of our sports like we are it is just fun to hang out and watch what the other one does.”
No. 1 Qualifier: Shawn Langdon (Al-Anabi Racing) 3.753 sec., 321.81 mph
ANTRON BROWN, Matco Tools Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 4
First round opponents: Clay Millican, Brittany Force, Leah Pritchett
FRIDAY: 3.823 sec., 319.45 mph, (Session 1); 6.627, 97.88, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 3.824, 316.45, (Session 3); 3.794, 320.89, (Session 4)