Antron Brown is fearless, but that isn’t necessarily big news.
Not in his sport.
Drivers know the risk of strapping into a rocket on wheels that hits 300 mph faster than many commuters can get their sedans to 50.
So few should be surprised at how Brown reacted to a fiery crash Feb. 17 in the season opener at Pomona, Calif. The engine in his car blew up, creating a scary scene that amazingly left him with little more than a sore back — and the determination to return to racing and win.
Brown didn’t wait, returning the following week to finish third in the Arizona Nationals. He then won the Gatornationals on March 17 in Gainesville, Fla.
When asked Thursday about coming back from the crash, Brown didn’t focus on the wreck or the win at Gainesville but instead on the missed opportunity between those races.
“We had a great racecar in Phoenix, and I kind of messed up,” he said. “I ain’t going to lie to you, that kind of pissed me off.”
Now Brown is in Las Vegas to compete today through Sunday in the SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
He leads teammate Tony Schumacher by four points in the NHRA’s Top Fuel standings.
Brown, 37, made history last season when he became the first African-American to win a major U.S. racing series.
He received national attention for breaking that barrier and knows what it could mean to other minorities who might otherwise consider competing in other sports.
Brown’s own source of inspiration had nothing to do with race. He revered John Force, a former truck driver who struggled financially and competitively for several years in NHRA before he became a 15-time series champion.
“That gave me the hope if he could do it, so could I,” said Brown, who added he hopes he could be a similar inspiration to others.
Brown’s climb to the championship, like Force’s, was a long time coming.
Former NFL cornerback Troy Vincent provided Brown his first major break by becoming his first team owner in 1997 in Pro Stock Motorcycles.
“Troy showed me how to be a professional, how to carry myself,” Brown said. “I was 20 years old. I had a lot of responsibility. I was like a sponge. I absorbed it all, and it turned out pretty well.”
Began pretty well, too.
Brown finished seventh in the standings as a rookie in 1998 and won three races the following year.
He finished in the top 10 of the standings all 10 years before making the jump to Top Fuel in 2008.
Then Brown became the first NHRA driver to win races in both classes. He finished in the top five his first five seasons in Top Fuel, including last year’s championship.
What made Brown’s season so remarkable was it came at a time in which parity reigns. Ten drivers won at least one event last year, and Brown took home six titles.
“If you won two races, you did something special last year,” he said. “Now we come into Vegas, and each race is so crucial because we know what we have to do each round to get it done. Each round, you’ve got to win like it’s the final round.”
The Strip at LVMS has been kind to Brown. He finished second in last year’s spring race and won it two years ago.
“When we come to Vegas, what makes it special is the atmosphere,” Brown said. “All the big things happen in Vegas. And when we come here, our racetrack is called The Strip. Not dragstrip, The Strip. When you go there and see the way the facility’s made, it’s like you’re at one of the Taj Mahal racetracks in our whole circuit. So when you come here, you say this is a track (where) I’ve got to win. I want to be the one at the end of the race up on the stage with the showgirls.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.