Jerry Bonkowski

(Photos: Mark Rebilas/Toyota Racing (car), NHRA (head photo)

NHRA: Antron ‘Countdown’ Brown on verge of 3rd Top Fuel title in 5 seasons

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Antron Brown has a new nickname.

Instead of being known as “AB” for his two initials, you can call him “Countdown Brown.”

It’s a moniker that is most appropriate. In the last 10 races in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship – six last season and four thus far in 2016 – Brown has won six of those events.

“That’s called teamwork, that’s called when the pressure gets up,” Brown said. “I think that’s what brings out the best in our team.

“Our team thrives on pressure. Where some teams might crack or fold, some teams get better. When the higher the pressure gets, it seems like it dials our knob up even more and we put that extra focus in. We all feel it.

“We can look at each other without even talking about it and know where we need to be. Every time we go down that racetrack, it’s like alright now, we have the next round. This is the coolest part that I think makes our team so good, we never look at the whole race. We take it one step at a time.

“Every step that we take we try to be efficient with it and make the best out of it. I think that’s what pays big dividends when we look back. We look at all the baby steps we made and all the right ones that got us where we needed to be.”

There’s another significant type of countdown for Brown in this weekend’s Toyota NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The New Jersey native holds an almost insurmountable 150-point lead over second-ranked Doug Kalitta, 172 points over third-ranked Shawn Langdon and 191 points over fourth-ranked Brittany Force.

Brown merely has to leave Las Vegas with between a 96 to 110-point lead to clinch his second consecutive Top Fuel championship and third in the last five seasons.

But don’t let that massive points lead coming into Sin City fool you. Like a savvy gambler, Brown is not letting the odds sway him. He’s most definitely keeping his cards close to the vest.

antron brown wins at chicago 2016

“We are going into Vegas, we have a little bit of a points lead but it’s anybody’s game,” Brown said. “Our main focus is to stay humble, keep our heads down and continue the hard work that’s got us here.

“That is a crucial moment for us right now. We’re still not done working. We can’t wait for Vegas and the Toyota Nationals.”

Brown is looking to extend his outstanding run thus far in this year’s Countdown at Las Vegas by claiming his fourth win in the first five races of the playoffs. That would make him 7-for-11 in his last 11 Countdown races, including last year’s three Countdown wins.

Given his large lead on Kalitta and the others chasing him, you’d think Brown would come into Vegas with a defensive mindset, to protect what he has so far.

If you indeed thought that, you thought right. As the artist formerly known as AB, it’s all about the offense and the win, baby.

“Our heads are really focused on the end and the end is not until they say this is the 2016 world championship winner,” Brown said. “We’re in a great situation right now, but we don’t feel comfortable yet and our work is not done yet.

“We’re not going in defensive mode and we’re just going to try to keep doing the same things we’ve done to get to this point.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in Brown’s strategy. Back in 2012, before he ultimately won his first Top Fuel crown, he also almost lost it.

Brown came into Las Vegas with a 136-point lead over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher. But with uncharacteristic first-round losses in final eliminations at both Vegas and the season finale at Pomona, Brown barely held on to deny Schumacher his ninth career Top Fuel championship by a mere seven points, one of the closest finishes in NHRA history.

“It would be great to close this out in Vegas and that’s our hope,” Brown said. “We want to win it and we want to win it as quick as possible. But you can’t take any of this for granted and that’s why we all work so hard to get to this point.”



WHAT: 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the fifth of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.

WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of Las Vegas off I-15. COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 2,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 27-30


THURSDAY, Oct. 27 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

FRIDAY, Oct. 28 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying; NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.

SATURDAY, Oct. 29 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations; NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 1:30 p.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 5:30 p.m.; MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, Nov. 1 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10:15 a.m.; MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION: Friday, Oct. 28, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).

Sunday, Oct. 30, FS1 will air one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 a.m. (ET).

Sunday, Oct. 30, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 4 p.m. (ET).

2015 LAS VEGAS EVENT WINNERS: Doug Kalitta, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST CAREER VICTORIES AT LAS VEGAS: Andrew Hines, PSM, 5; Greg Anderson, PS, 4; Ron Capps, FC, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4; John Force, FC, 3.

LAS VEGAS TRACK RECORDS: Top Fuel – 3.722 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ’15 and 332.67 mph by Shawn Langdon, Oct. ’15. Funny Car – 3.931 sec. by Tommy Johnson Jr., Oct. ’15 and 325.92 mph by Del Worsham, Oct. ’15. Pro Stock – 6.559 sec. and 210.28 mph by Erica Enders, Oct. ’15. Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.852 sec. by Jerry Savoie, Oct. ’15; 196.56 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. ’11

NATIONAL RECORDS: Top Fuel – 3.671 sec. by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn. Funny Car – 3.822 by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kansas. Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J. Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.



Top Fuel — 1.  Antron Brown, 2,504; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,354; 3.  Shawn Langdon, 2,332; 4.  Brittany Force, 2,313; 5.  Steve Torrence, 2,307; 6.  Tony Schumacher, 2,295; 7.  J.R. Todd, 2,260; 8.  Leah Pritchett, 2,250; 9.  Richie Crampton, 2,195; 10.  Clay Millican, 2,168.

Funny Car — 1.  Ron Capps, 2,465; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,401; 3.  Matt Hagan, 2,377; 4.  Jack Beckman, 2,334; 5.  Del Worsham, 2,320; 6.  Robert Hight, 2,278; 7.  John Force, 2,267; 8.  Courtney Force, 2,238; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,228; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,151.

Pro Stock — 1.  Jason Line, 2,454; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,428; 3.  Vincent Nobile, 2,340; 4.  Shane Gray, 2,320; 5.  Bo Butner, 2,314; 6.  Drew Skillman, 2,269; 7.  Chris McGaha, 2,222; 8.  Allen Johnson, 2,213; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 2,146; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,135.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,425; 2.  Andrew Hines, 2,408; 3.  Jerry Savoie, 2,376; 4.  Angelle Sampey, 2,365; 5.  Chip Ellis, 2,328; 6.  LE Tonglet, 2,288; 7.  Cory Reed, 2,229; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,211; 9.  Matt Smith, 2,202; 10.  Hector Arana Jr., 2,183.

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Gray area: 3rd generation of NHRA Pro Stock family to debut in 2017

Photos courtesy of Geiger Global Media
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Like father, like son, like grandson.

First came Gray Family team patriarch Johnny Gray, who had a standout career in the NHRA Funny Car and Pro Stock ranks.

Then came his son, Shane, who took over the family’s Pro Stock car reins.

And now, Johnny’s grandson and Shane’s son, Tanner, will carry on the Gray family racing heritage in 2017.

The Gray family announced over the weekend that Shane will step out of the family’s Gray Motorsports Valvoline/Nova Services Pro Stock Chevrolet at the end of this season.

Exit Shane (at least for 2017), enter Tanner.

“I’m not driving next year,” Shane Gray said in a media release. “I’m going to let (Tanner) drive the car, and I’ll be there to support the team. I’ll be there for him and wherever he needs help.

“We’re very active in drag racing. He wants to drive the car, and I’m 100 percent cool with that. It’s always better for the dad to sit back and watch the kid than do it yourself. It’s just time to let him drive.”

Interestingly, Shane Gray is currently ranked fourth in the Pro Stock rankings with two races remaining in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship.

Shane Gray, who has four career Pro Stock wins, is only 134 points behind Pro Stock points leader Jason Line, 108 behind second-ranked Greg Anderson and just 20 points behind third-ranked Greg Nobile.

There are a combined 260 points available to be earned by any driver in the remaining two races on the schedule, this weekend in Las Vegas and the season finale Nov. 10-13 in Pomona, California.

If Line or Anderson slip in one or both of the races, Gray is still mathematically eligible to steal the championship away, which would be one heck of a way to go out.

Tanner has already begun preparing for his new role, having recently tested at Rockingham (NC) Dragway.

“I’ve been around it since I was 9 or 10 years old,” Tanner Gray, now 18, said. “I think it’s really cool to be able to do what they’ve done. We’ll see if we can win some championships one day. … I’m pretty excited for it.”

Tanner tested both his father’s Pro Stock car and crew chief Dave Connolly’s sportsman car to get a good feel for what his future holds. Having both his father and Connolly in his corner will put him that much further ahead of the game starting next season.

“I think I would’ve been lost if it wasn’t for Dave letting me drive his bracket car, just getting used to the speed and how the car reacts,” Tanner Gray said. “But driving his Cobalt helped a lot more and sped up the progression.”

The third-generation driver has driven a number of different types of race cars, from NHRA Junior Dragsters to Mini Sprints, Outlaw Karts, 360 Sprint Cars, Late Model Stock Cars and even go-karts.

But it’s NHRA that has won his heart and his future.

“We put Tanner in a race car when he was 12 years old,” Shane Gray said of his son. “I have 100 percent confidence in him.

“He’s already made some test laps. Tanner will be fine. We put him in the car, showed him how to do it and what he needed to do, and by the end of the day, we had him going down the race track.”

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Americans Askew and Kirkwood have strong runs at Formula Ford Festival

Photographs courtesy of Jack Mitchell/JAM Motorsport Photography.
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While Formula One was in the U.S. for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, several American open-wheel racers had a strong go of it at the Formula Ford Festival in Brands Hatch, England.

See the release below for more info on who:

Team USA Scholarship drivers Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood continued to impress during a thrilling Formula Ford Festival Final on Sunday. Fellow American Chase Owen also posted a strong drive in the 20-lap finale, finishing sixth in another Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray.

The distinctive pair of red-white-and-blue Rays of Askew and Kirkwood lined up fourth and 16th on the grid after finishing second and eighth, respectively, in the morning’s Semi Final race. The Final began in cold but dry conditions and the opening stages delivered some scintillating action as polesitter and former British Formula Ford champion Scott Malvern held onto a tenuous lead over 2016 BRSCC Avon Tires British FF1600 champion Niall Murray and a vast, snarling pack of hungry young drivers all seeking to claim Festival glory.

Askew made another excellent start to move into third place at the first corner, only to fall to fourth when a defensive Malvern bottled up the pack under braking for Clearways and Luke Williams took the opportunity to drive around the outside of two of his rivals, including Askew, to run third. Askew lost another position on the following lap when an attempt to pass Williams at Graham Hill Bend was strongly rebuffed and the hard-charging American lost momentum on the exit and was promptly passed by two cars on the Cooper Straight, including Malvern’s teammate Chris Middlehurst.


Undeterred, Askew quickly fought back, regaining fourth on the next lap as Murray brilliantly squeezed past Malvern for the lead under braking for Paddock Hill Bend … after the pair had run with interlocked wheels for virtually the entire length of the Brabham Straight! Murray quickly pulled away to snag a well-deserved victory.

Askew aggressively regained third position on Lap 9 and initially reduced the small gap to Malvern, pulling clear of Middlehurst until Malvern’s obstructive tactics slowed them both appreciably and allowed the pack to close in again. The battled continued to be hot and heavy until Lap 14, when Askew abruptly slowed and headed for the pits with a punctured tire after being forced over the curb on the exit of Druid’s hairpin.

“Fantastic weekend up until about halfway through the Final,” said Askew with a broad smile. “I had a puncture and had to pull off the track unfortunately, but the car was unbelievable. Cliff Dempsey nailed the tire pressures and the setup. It was unreal. I had more grip than anyone around me. I was super-fast and had speed for at least second. I was passing for third when the  puncture happened.”

Kirkwood, meanwhile, was embroiled in a typically fraught battle in the midst of the 30-car field. He lost a place in the early stages before finding his feet and making a series of strong passes, especially under braking for Clearways, before finally crossing the finish line in seventh.

“Overall the race was good,” said Kirkwood. “I just had to pick people off left and right. After a couple of laps it almost seemed like you had to get the car in front of you comfortable with you in their mirrors and then make a move on them when they left the door open.”

The pair will return to action for the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone on November 5/6.

Taylor Swift ready to get into a F1 frame of mind Saturday at COTA

"One Chance" Portraits - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
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If you’re a fan of both Formula One and singer Taylor Swift, you should be at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on Saturday.

Swift will perform her only scheduled concert of 2016 after Saturday’s action concludes on the racetrack.

To get her fans even more excited about the concert, Swift – who is apparently already in Austin for rehearsals – took to Instagram earlier this week and posted several videos.

The first clip was a short scene showing Swift playing an acoustic guitar.

At rehearsals @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

The second clip, which she captioned “Band practice,” showed Swift and her band rocking out on her 2012 hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

Band practice @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

And then the third Instagram clip shows an exuberant Swift proclaiming, “Hey guys, I can’t wait to see you this weekend in Austin, Texas.”

See you this weekend! @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

Then, as the camera continued rolling, Swift good-naturedly quipped, “Just said that so they don’t go to the wrong place. You know, people get lost.”

The weekend will be special for Swift, 26. Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the release of her debut album.

Also, several reports indicate that she may debut songs from a rumored new album that may be released later this month.

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IndyCar: Tony Kanaan keeps his word, much to fans’ delight

Phoenix International Raceway - Day 1
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Tony Kanaan has long been one of the classiest drivers in the IndyCar world.

He proved that once again – as well as being a man of his word – recently.

Kanaan was slated to speak last Thursday, Oct. 13, to the Boys and Girls Club of Wayne County, Indiana. Among topics he was slated to talk about in the fundraising event were life lessons and the importance of keeping your word/promise.

But Kanaan also had to take part in a Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone tire test at the same time at Gateway Motorsports Park, nearly 300 miles away from the B&GC event in Richmond, Indiana.

Even though he agreed to speak at the club meeting several months ago, Kanaan could easily have simply cancelled. But he went the extra distance by reaching out to former IndyCar driver and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk to substitute for him.

Luyendyk had to travel all the way from his home in Phoenix, but was glad to fill in for Kanaan.

B&GC executive director Bruce Daggy was happy that Luyendyk stepped up, but also “I was sad we weren’t going to have Tony here,” Daggy told “We had invested in it.”

Indeed, Kanaan’s appearance had been heavily promoted, including posted on nearly 20 billboards in and around the Richmond area.

Even with Luyendyk as his fill-in, Kanaan still felt bad about cancelling.

“I hate to make commitments I can’t fulfill,” Kanaan told “I put myself in their shoes. If I was coming to an event to see a person and they didn’t show, I would understand, but I would feel bad. So, I didn’t want to let anybody down, especially in Indiana.”

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That’s when the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion hatched a plan. Close friend and fellow driver Scott Dixon got on board by chartering a private plane to fly Kanaan from St. Louis to Richmond as soon as the tire test concluded at 6 pm ET.

When the plane landed about an hour later, Kanaan was given a police escort to Richmond High School, where the event had been moved to accommodate the large crowd when it was announced Kanaan would be the featured speaker.

“I just felt that there is always a way and we would make it happen,” Kanaan said, even though he arrived close to the event’s scheduled conclusion. Instead, his arrival extended the event, to the glee of those in the audience.

“The guy chartered a plane,” Daggy said. “That tells me he is a real man of character.”

Added Kanaan, “Getting me here was everybody’s effort. I had a blast. It was worth it.”

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