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

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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.”

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).