Top Fuel driver Antron Brown. (AP Photo/NHRA,Marc Gewertz)

NHRA Top Fuel driver Antron Brown doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘slow’


No matter what his method of transportation, Antron Brown isn’t just fast, he’s F-A-S-T.

He’s fast afoot: He was quick enough in the 100-meter dash to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials in 1997.

He’s fast on two wheels: During his nine years in NHRA competition in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, Brown came close to winning the championship (finished second) in 2001, won at least one race and finished in the top 10 in the final standings in every season from 1999 through his last season in the class in 2007, was a 2-time winner at the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, and won the Autombile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award in 1999 (NHRA’s version of Rookie of the Year).

He’s fast on four wheels – MUCH faster, indeed: Won his first Mello Yello world championship in 2012, becoming the first African-American NHRA world champion and the first black driver to win a major U.S. auto racing title; he also is the only driver in NHRA history to win races in both the Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks. Also won the U.S. Nationals yet again, this time in a Top Fuel dragster.

And Brown, 38, a resident of Chesterfield, New Jersey, is by no means showing any signs of slowing down.

The driver of the Matco Tools dragster heads into the start of the NHRA’s “western swing” this weekend at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver as one of only seven drivers in the sport’s history who has ever swept all three races of the “swing” in one year, having done so in 2009.

But Brown has higher aspirations than just doing well the next three races. With five wins already in the series’ first 14 events, and a solid second in the Top Fuel points standings, Brown wants his second championship in the last three seasons.

“It’s been actually incredible this year,” Brown said on an NHRA teleconference Wednesday. “The whole competition in Top Fuel this year has been just insane right now. Battling out with Dougie (points leader Doug Kalitta), he’s definitely been the leader of the class so far, but our Matco Tools car is definitely running like gangbusters.

“We’ve been right on track where we need to be. With that being said, we always look forward going on to the Western Swing because right now this time is real crucial for us to get going right now because once you get back from the swing we have the U.S. Nationals and then we’re off to the Countdown to our championship, which is where the championship is won.”

Brown’s dominance this season has only been hindered by three other races where he suffered a first-round loss in eliminations. Had he been able to advance past the opening round on Sunday morning at those three events, he likely would be closer – if not ahead – to Kalitta.

At the same time, Brown is more than poised to make up for those three early exits in the western swing, which along with the U.S. Nationals is the most important part of the season for teams heading into the Countdown to the Championship.

“To win one round of NHRA racing right now is crazy hard,” Brown said. “To get past the first round is crazy hard. There’s no more gimmies. There’s 12 great race teams out there, and to compete out there in it is just it makes it that hard and difficult to try to get it done.”

While winning the championship is his goal, Brown believes that a second western swing sweep would put him in the driver’s seat, so to speak, towards that second Top Fuel crown.

“It’d be huge (to win the western swing again),” Brown said. “You’ll be the first mark in history to do it, you know what I mean, and we came so close to doing it before. We go into Western Swing and we can think about that, but when we go into the first race in Denver, you erase all that from your mind because you don’t let your emotions get the best of you to try to actually get that done.

“There’s so much that you have to have go your way to get that done, if you’re focused on that, you’re not focused on the thing that you need to get done (win the race and come one step closer to the championship).”

Brown is not only an in-demand Top Fuel racer, he’s also known for the motivational talks and speeches he gives, especially to youngsters across the country.

He has several speaking engagements lined up in the coming weeks, and as much as his audience of kids is wowed by Brown’s presence and what he imparts, those talks also help keep him grounded and still hungry for more wins and championships.

“There’s one thing that I can tell you honestly,” Brown said. “It comes down to the heart and determination of the individual. You have to be willing and you have to want it, you know what I mean? That’s the one thing that you can’t teach people today, and like that’s the difference between somebody like Michael Jordan and somebody that comes off the bench.

“You can’t teach ‘want to’ and my deal is I just want it. I can speak for everybody on our Matco Tools U.S. Army Toyota race team is that that’s what I’m telling you; we had a lot of talented guys before even that won the championship. We had great guys. But we have a group of individuals on our team that we make up one whole team together that has that want to, that desire.

“They want to win. The boys are hungry. They’re willing to do whatever it takes, and they’re all about being perfectionists, and that’s what it takes to have a great team and win and they don’t have no attitudes. They’re willing to work together. That’s the biggest thing, that we don’t have one person going a different direction that we’ve got to reel in. We have all of our guys go together, it’s nine of us, and we’re going into the same direction. And that’s something special right there. It’s something really, really, really special. I think that’s what makes the deal so great in doing what we want to do.

“My main deal in me is that I always set my goals real high and I shoot for them and I try to overachieve them, and then when I fall a little short I look back and I feel like I’ve accomplished a great bit of stuff. I think that’s one key to being successful in life is that when you stumble and fall you dust yourself off and you give it another lick and you go at it even harder, but you learn from it and grow from it.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Mexican GP

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 27:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing arrive at the circuit in full Dia de Muertos face paint during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 27, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 returns to Mexico this weekend with memories of last year’s exuberant event still fresh and the championship battle finely poised.

Nico Rosberg may have lost out to Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton last weekend in Austin, Texas, but the German is still 26 points clear heading to Mexico City.

Rosberg can mathematically win the championship this Sunday, but needs Hamilton not to score and would have to win the race himself.

What can we expect in Mexico this weekend? MST F1 writers Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno make their picks.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton was effortless flawless in Austin. I’ll say he’ll carry that form through to Mexico on Sunday and tick another track off his win list.

Surprise Finish: Sergio Perez. While I doubt Perez can hit the podium, I reckon he could get among the Ferrari drivers and take home another top five finish for Force India on home soil.

Most to Prove: Esteban Gutierrez. At his first home grand prix weekend, Gutierrez needs to impress as he bids to remain with Haas for 2017.

Additional Storyline: Rosberg’s approach. Will Rosberg play things safe in Mexico? Or could he try and finish what he started with a 10th victory of the season? Keep an eye on his on-track attitude.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. It may not matter for the championship if Nico Rosberg finishes second but thanks to his on-form weekend in Austin, I think Hamilton can carry the momentum to Mexico and add this circuit to his tally of victories. A win here would tie him with Alain Prost for second all-time on 51.

Surprise Finish: Sergio Perez. Going to peg the Mexican for at least a top-five finish on home soil in Mexico City. A Mercedes-powered Williams got on the podium here last year, and I’m going to be so bold as to see Perez scores P3 here thanks to some abnormal circumstances taking the Red Bulls and Ferraris from podium contention.

Most to Prove: Renault’s current pair. I wrote the same last week, but after both Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer had a weekend to forget in Austin, either or both of them need to step up this weekend. Problem here is, it will be extra difficult considering neither raced here last year.

Additional Storyline: Mexico year two. Much as we always look at how COTA does year-on-year, will Mexico’s second outing of its return to the calendar feature the same festive crowd, atmosphere and presence or will there be a drop off?

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sergio Perez Force India

Aoyama to replace injured Pedrosa for Malaysia MotoGP round

MOTEGI, JAPAN - OCTOBER 15:   Hiroshi Aoyama of Japan and Repsol Honda Team (rides in place of Dani pedrosa of Spain) heads down a straight during the practice during the MotoGP of Japan - Qualifying at Twin Ring Motegi on October 15, 2016 in Motegi, Japan.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Honda test rider Hiroshi Aoyama will return to the MotoGP grid this weekend in Malaysia, deputizing for the injured Dani Pedrosa.

Pedrosa sustained a fractured collarbone after crashing during practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, with Aoyama stepping in for the remainder of the weekend at Motegi. The Japanese rider finished 15th, scoring one point.

American rider Nicky Hayden stood in last weekend in Australia, but is unable to race in Malaysia due to a clash with the World Superbike Championship. As a result, Aoyama will return for the race weekend at the Sepang International Circuit.

“I’m very glad to have the chance to ride for the Repsol Honda Team again, as in Japan it was a bit challenging to start Saturday morning from FP3, to adapt to the bike and to try and find my rhythm,” Aoyama said.

“I hope this time things will work out well and I can find a good feeling with the bike since the beginning. All of us wish for Dani coming back soon, but until he is recovered I’ll do my best for Honda and for the Repsol Honda Team.

“Tuesday was my 35th birthday and I’m simply happy to be here in Malaysia, which is a country I particularly like and I look forward to enjoy racing at the Sepang Circuit.”

Rosberg focused on winning the race, not the championship, in Mexico

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP talks in the Drivers Press Conference during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 27, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg insists that he is only focused on winning the race and not the championship this weekend when Formula 1 visits Mexico City.

Rosberg is able to clinch his maiden F1 drivers’ championship this Sunday in Mexico, but only if he wins the race and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton fails to score any points.

The German has long insisted that he is approaching the championship on a race by race basis, and won’t change that stance in Mexico.

“I’m well aware of that,” Rosberg said when reminded he could win the title on Sunday.

“It’s been a great season so far which has put me in this position. It’s exciting to be in this championship battle with Lewis towards the end of the season.

“For me, my way of achieving the best possible result is to focus on the things that are in my control. In Mexico, that’s winning the race.

“For the championship, it’s not really in my control if I get it this weekend. It’s about winning the race and then see what happens.”

Rosberg maintained the approach when asked what winning the world championship would mean to him.

“It’s a childhood dream. But that’s where it ends for me,” Rosberg said.

“For me important this weekend is winning the Mexican GP.”

Rosberg was also asked about F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone’s suggestion over the United States Grand Prix weekend that the German winning the title would not be as good for F1 as if Hamilton won it.

“I spoke to him personally and he said that’s not exactly the way he said it,” Rosberg said.

“But for me it’s not something that’s important to me. I focus on my thing. That’s it.”

Rosberg won last year’s grand prix in Mexico when F1 returned after 23-year hiatus, and is relishing the opportunity to race in front of a passionate home crowd.

“I have great memories from here last year, winning here was awesome,” Rosberg said.

“The podium is one of the best in the year in the baseball stadium, it was absolutely phenomenal.”

Red Bull’s ‘Mad Max’ Verstappen adds flair and drama to F1

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing sits in his car in the garage before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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It’s been a wild season for young Max Verstappen.

The talented Dutch teenager has been promoted to Red Bull, become the youngest winner in Formula One history and bickered with some of the top teams and drivers in the sport. His aggressive tactics have even prompted a rules clarification for safety.

“Mad Max” is brash, won’t be intimidated and to many, he’s a much-needed dose of excitement for Formula One and a future champion. The kid seized on his chance to be fast and famous and won’t let go.

“Why wait?” Verstappen said. “I have a great car, a great team, and I want it all as quickly as possible.”

Verstappen is squeezing everything he can into this season as Formula One races this week in Mexico City. At the U.S. Grand Prix in Texas last week, Verstappen provided days of drama worthy of a 19-year-old still learning how to navigate a grown-up sport.

The teams had barely left Japan two weeks earlier when Mercedes considered, then opted not to file a complaint over his defensive moves against Lewis Hamilton in a braking zone. Verstappen finished second and Hamilton’s third-place finish pushed him further back in the 2016 title chase against teammate Nico Rosberg.

By the time drivers got to Austin, several used their Friday meeting to complain about their precocious rival. Having heard similar comments several times this season, Formula One officials issued a rule clarification: blocking during braking would be deemed illegal and punished. It took about 10 minutes for the media to call it the “Verstappen Rule.”

He shrugged.

“Maybe they can get past (me), now,” Verstappen said.

Conflicts have also flared in the Red Bull garage.

After getting an early warning during the race to save his tires, Verstappen barked over his car radio that he’s “not here to finish fourth!” A few laps later, he mistakenly went into a pit stop without a team order. He was out of the race a few laps later with a gearbox problem.

Even that disrupted teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Unable to race but still mobile, Verstappen tried to nurse his car around the track before he eventually pulled over and stopped. That brought out a yellow flag, which meant Ricciardo lost valuable time in his battle for second with Rosberg. Ricciardo finished third.

“When I saw Max out there, I thought, ‘Ah hell, my boy’s done it again.’ That was a devastating moment, but we’ll keep soldiering on,” Ricciardo said.

Team leadership was not amused.

“We have 80 engineers and strategists, but it’s all useless if a driver decides alone to come into the pits,” Red Bull racing consultant Helmut Marko told Autoweek.

Verstappen is the son of race driver Jos Verstappen, who made 106 career Formula One starts, and his talent caught a lot of attention from teams growing up. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff tried to sign Verstappen when he was 14 before Red Bull snagged him.

Wolff, whose drivers are chasing each other for the team’s third consecutive championship, has alternately called Verstappen “refreshing” and “dangerous” and has even compared him to Formula One’s revered Ayrton Senna.

“He comes in here with no fear, no respect, puts the elbows out,” Wolff said earlier this season.

That approach has worn thin on some teams, most notably Ferrari and its two former world champion drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen has warned Verstappen could cause a “massive accident” with his driving.

But Verstappen’s critics have done most of their shouting at him from the rear. Before his car failed him in Texas, Verstappen finished second in Malaysia and Japan. His five podium finishes in the last 10 races are three more than Vettel and Raikkonen combined.

And back in Spain, when the Mercedes cars knocked each other out in a first-lap crash, Verstappen leaped to the front and doggedly held off Raikkonen for his first career victory in his first race for Red Bull.

Verstappen drives with swagger and a win Sunday in Mexico would come on his 20th birthday. His critics have done little damage to his confidence or skills behind the wheel.

“No,” Verstappen said. “I am a grown-up boy.”