Smith, Pastrana stay cool while raising money for Leffler fund

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As Chicago temperatures crept close to 90 degrees on Monday, NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers Regan Smith and Travis Pastrana cooled off in a unique way — and did a good deed in the process.

Making several stops around the Windy City, Smith, who won Saturday’s NNS race at Michigan, and Pastrana sold ice cream bars as part in an event promoting the upcoming July 19-21 Nationwide Series race weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

At a suggested donation of $1 per, Smith sold traditional ice cream sandwiches, while Pastrana, befitting of his — shall we say, more adventurous — persona, sold “bomb pops” to folks passing by and looking for ways to cool off from the heat and humidity.

When the event was over, the two drivers had sold over $600 worth of ice cream, with Smith edging Pastrana at the finish line, so to speak, outselling his rival by a mere $2 in total proceeds. With a healthy additional donation by Chicagoland Speedway’s R.A.C.E.Foundation, a total of $2,000 was raised to benefit the Charlie Dean Leffler Charity Fund, a trust fund established for the five-year-old son of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler. The elder Leffler was tragically killed in a wreck during a dirt track race last week in New Jersey.

“This was my first trip to downtown Chicago and we had a great time out here while raising money for a cause near and dear to our hearts,” said Smith, the current NNS points leader. “I want to thank everyone who came out today to help us raise money. We will see you this July at Chicagoland Speedway.”

Pastrana, an 11-time X-Games gold medalist before making a career switch to the NASCAR world — he’s in his first full season on the Nationwide circuit — couldn’t help getting in a bit of good-natured trash talking about Smith.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago over the years and it’s always one of my favorite places to be,” Pastrana said. “Regan edged me out there at the end today, although I still think he might have taken some liberties with self-funding. We enjoyed getting to meet everyone and we’re excited to be back here two more times this season (Chicagoland Speedway will also host a second NNS race on the opening weekend of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Sept. 13-15).”

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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