NHRA: Antron Brown continues to hit stride with New Hampshire victory

(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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There was no stopping two-time and defending NHRA Top Fuel champ Antron Brown in Monday’s victory in the NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, New Hampshire.  That included beating two of his teammates along the way in the four rounds of eliminations.

After enjoying a first-round bye because he was the No. 1 qualifier, Brown defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammates Shawn Langdon in the second round and Tony Schumacher in the semifinal (the furthest the eight-time champion has gotten thus far this season), before getting past Steve Torrence in the final round to win the event. Brown now joins Doug Kalitta and Brittany Force as the only multiple winners thus far in 2016.

“It feels good,” Brown said in a media release. “We’ve been to a couple of other finals this year that we feel like we should’ve won.

antron brown NH win vertical 2016
Antron Brown celebrates after winning Monday’s Top Fuel segment in Epping, New Hampshire.

“This was a great race weekend. We’re still learning some different things on the car and we are growing. The car is showing us great signs of being a phenomenal racecar thanks to the work my guys led by (co-crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) are putting in.

“We’re reaping the benefits. We had a couple of rounds today that went our way and it felt good to be able to capitalize on that in the final round.”

Ironically, Brown advanced past Langdon and Schumacher when both drivers uncharacteristically jumped the starting line before the green “go” light appeared.

“When you are amped up knowing how important having good lights are, you’ve got to push it,” Schumacher said. “I’d rather stand here and be disappointed that we got beat by trying too hard than to get beat on a holeshot and be saying we should have pushed a little harder.”

Brown is now just 46 points behind Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta heading into Brown’s home track in Englishtown, New Jersey for this weekend’s NHRA Summer Nationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. It will be the 10th race in the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Brown is the defending winner at Englishtown, where he captured his 50th career win of his overall NHRA career, first as a Pro Stock Motorcycle rider and then Top Fuel pilot. Since then, he’s gone on to win the 2015 Top Fuel championship and six other races (including his wins thus far in 2016).

And he comes into his home track on a big roll of late, having reached at least the semifinals, if not the final round, in each of the last six races.

“You don’t get more confident, you just have a little momentum where we’ve been going rounds,” Brown said. “We’ve been going a lot of rounds these last four to five races where we’re starting to get into that groove.

“You have to have some luck go your way, and you can set yourself up for luck by the way you qualify. With that being said, you have to take it while you can get it. This sport is the most humbling sport. We keep our head down and we give it all we got every single weekend.

“You always want more race wins and that’s what we are striving for. The competition right now is just ridiculous. It’s at an all-time high. There’s so many great teams that can come out here and set world records.

“To defend our title, we have to push ourselves to another limit. That’s what we’ve been working on, to be better than what we were last year. We just have to take it one round at a time and give it all that we’ve got each time.”

Here are the updated Top Fuel standings after New Hampshire:

  1. Doug Kalitta (785 points)
  2. Antron Brown (739 points, -46)
  3. Steve Torrence (658, -127)
  4. Brittany Force (623, -162)
  5. Tony Schumacher (483, -302)
  6. Clay Millican (475, -310)
  7. J.R. Todd (473, -312)
  8. Richie Crampton (450, -335)
  9. Shawn Langdon (399, -386)
  10. Leah Pritchett (360, -425)

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SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”