MOHNTON, Pa. — official release — NHRA photo — Antron Brown knew he needed something big to happen to have a realistic shot at a 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship.
The Top Fuel star delivered just that in St. Louis and now is hungry for more heading into the second half of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. After three straight first-round losses, including a pair of opening-round defeats to open the Countdown, Brown rebounded with a huge victory on Sunday in St. Louis.
That bumped the 2012 Top Fuel world champion up to fourth in the points standings, but Brown wants to keep the good vibes going as his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools dragster has regained its championship form. He will get that chance at one of the quickest and fastest strips on the NHRA circuit at this weekend’s 30th annual NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading.
“We came into (St. Louis) and knew our backs were against the wall,” Brown said. “We’ve just been struggling the last four races. We’ve been working hard, and no matter what we did, the car wasn’t cooperating with us. You have to be in the zone, and we definitely weren’t in the zone the first two races of the Countdown. But we got it back.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. It is the fourth of six events in the Countdown.
It’s also a place where Brown has had plenty of notable runs, even if he is still searching for his first victory at the track. Brown, who has three final-round appearances at Maple Grove Raceway, set the national e.t. record at the track in 2012 with a blistering run of 3.701. After picking up his third straight victory in St. Louis, Brown is eager to head to another facility where he has had success.
“Some tracks you go to, you just feel more comfortable,” Brown said. “The rest of the tracks for the rest of the year fit our style, and that’s the good part about it. We’ve done well and can do well in Reading, can do well in Las Vegas, and can do well in Pomona.”
Doing well late in the season might not have mattered had Brown not reversed course at a pivotal time during the season. After racking up five wins during a banner regular season in the loaded Top Fuel class, Brown and his team, led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, fell on rough times heading into the Countdown, losing in the first round at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals before bowing out in the first round in Charlotte and Dallas to start the NHRA playoffs.
Needing a major turnaround, Brown responded in championship fashion, capping an impressive day in St. Louis with a final-round win against reigning world champion Langdon for his sixth victory of the season. Sitting in eighth after his troubles in Dallas, Brown, who has 47 career wins, is now in fourth and just 80 points behind teammate and current points leader Tony Schumacher with three races remaining.
“It shows you how brutal this class is,” Brown said. “This class is incredible when it comes to the competition involved, and anybody can win. These guys in the Countdown, they’re coming out, and they’re playing hard because we all want to win a championship. We’re back into that fighting mode with three races left. We have to keep on pushing because it’s still anybody’s race out there.”
Brown had everything going in St. Louis, including a number of great reaction times on the starting line during eliminations, and he is eager to carry that over to Reading, where the Top Fuel field will again be full of championship talent.
Langdon, second in points, won in Reading last year en route to his first Top Fuel world championship; other challengers include Schumacher, who has four wins at Maple Grove Raceway; Doug Kalitta, who has advanced to nine finals in 2014; Spencer Massey; Brittany Force; 2012 winner Khalid alBalooshi; rookie Richie Crampton; Steve Torrence; and J.R. Todd.
“Every race is decided on your whole package, so I try to leave nothing on the table,” Brown said. “My team is doing a stout job, and I just want to be on my game to hold up my end of the bargain. When you put those things together, that’s what wins races. We’re focused on what our car needs to do to get the job done.”