Rough start at historic NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville fueled world championship career for DSR’s Matco Tools Top Fuel driver
BROWNSBURG, Ind. (March 10, 2015) – Growing up in New Jersey, the state of California seemed like a world away for Antron Brown. So in his opinion, the professional drag racing season opens this weekend with the 46th annual NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.
When the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event begins Friday it will be the third event of the 24-race season following events near Los Angeles and Phoenix.
But for the 2012 Top Fuel world champion, the Gatornationals was the national event that his drag racing family would use to start the clock on its annual racing season.
“Gainesville was always a special place to us,” said Antron, who ranks second in Top Fuel points after advancing to the championship round of the season-opener at Pomona, Calif. “This race lets people know on the East Coast that the race season is in full effect. It’s the Pomona of the East Coast.
“The track has prestige. The Gatornationals is one of our premier races. People always come to the Gatornationals. Fans are off the chain down there. It’s jam-packed because Florida has its own drag racing culture. From South Florida up to Jacksonville and over to Pensacola … people come to Gainesville as a meeting place each year.
“A lot of history has been made at that racetrack, and it’s the first race of the year for Pro Stock Motorcycles that makes it the first time this season all four professional categories will compete at the same race.
“And it’s the hometown track for one of the greats: “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.”
Antron, who turned 39 on March 1, became enamored with Garlits when he attended his first NHRA national event as a child and “Big Daddy” asked Antron to hand him a wrench.
And when it comes to historic events at Gainesville, one chapter could be devoted to Antron.
The 1998 Gatornationals is the first NHRA event Antron entered when he debuted a Pro Stock Motorcycle for a new team owned by former NFL all-star Troy Vincent. It became an infamous entry into professional drag racing for Antron and the team. After a solid, early qualifying run that put him sixth in the field, a crew member mistakenly filled his bike’s tank with gas intended for the generator in his pit. That led to the team being disqualified for the event.
“That was a special, special weekend. I was there with Troy and my mentor, the great Dave Schultz,” Antron said, then added with a laugh, “at least until we got disqualified. They kicked us out!”
He’s felt the full circle of emotions at the track about 115 miles northwest of Orlando.
Three years later, Gainesville was where he earned his first professional pole by qualifying No. 1 in Pro Stock Motorcycle in his first year riding for Don Schumacher Racing. Then his first and only Gatornationals title came in 2013 won he won in Top Fuel driving for DSR. He advanced to the championship round last year where he lost to Doug Kalitta.
Through two events this year, Antron started with a runner-up at the opener in Pomona, and advanced to the semifinals two weeks ago near Phoenix where he lost to eventual winner and teammate Tony Schumacher.
Antron, along with crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald hold the NHRA national elapsed time record of 3.701 seconds that was set in 2012 at Reading, Pa.
Antron Brown, Matco Tools Top Fuel Dragster
Last event (Feb. 20-22, Phoenix): Qualified No. 5; lost in semifinals to Tony Schumacher
A year ago at Gainesville: Qualified No. 2; lost in championship round to Doug Kalitta
Career at Gainesville: Wins 1 (2013); Runner-ups 3 (2014, 2010, 2006); Poles 2 (2010, 2001)
Pts Events Wins Rup Semi Qtr 1st rd Poles DNQ W/L
2015 2nd 2 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 5-2
CAREER 312 47 41 64 84 73 37 3 522-262
Best Time, Speed: 3.701 sec.-NHRA record (2012, Reading, Pa.); 328.78 mph (2012, Reading)
2015 NHRA MELLO YELLO CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
(After 2 of 24 events; DSR drivers in CAPS)
DRIVER (WINS) POINTS BEHIND
1. Shawn Langdon (1) 200 —
2. ANTRON BROWN 167 -33
3. TONY SCHUMACHER (1) 165 -35
4. Doug Kalitta 155 -45
5. SPENCER MASSEY 130 -70
6. Richie Crampton 115 -85
7. Larry Dixon 106 -94
8. J.R. Todd 88 -112
8. Steve Torrence 88 -112
10. Brittany Force 85 -115