NHRA

NHRA’s Antron Brown: ‘We’re here to bring the pain to other teams’ this season

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With three championships in five years (2012, 2015 and 2016) and 66 career wins (50 in Top Fuel and another 16 in Pro Stock Motorcycle), Antron Brown is used to winning – and he obviously more than has the racing resume to back that up.

While the New Jersey native – he now makes his home in suburban Indianapolis – walks around with an almost constant big smile on his face and possesses a good-natured attitude, Brown is also one of the fiercest and most diligent competitors in the NHRA.

Ask most of his competitors in the Top Fuel ranks and Brown is arguably one of the last opponents they want to look over and see in the opposite lane at the starting line.

Now that the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season kicked off this past weekend in Pomona, California, Brown is ready to become one of the top competitors on the Top Fuel circuit this season.

The reason is simple: Brown is coming off a less-than-normal season for him.

In 2018, Brown suffered through one of the worst seasons he’s experienced in his drag racing career. He managed just one win (Seattle). The last time he had so few victories in a Top Fuel season was in 2010.

And while the driver of the Don Schumacher Racing Matco Tools Toyota Top Fuel Dragster qualified for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs for an 11th consecutive season, Brown ended 2018 with a dismal sixth-place finish in the final standings.

He’s bound and determined not to go through that kind of season again. No way, no how.

“I don’t like to lose,” Brown said. “To be truthful, when we come in here, we’re here to bring the pain to other teams.

“We all look for a championship. That’s what we’re focused on. Last year we learned a lot of stuff. It was a good thing that we were competitive all year and we raced at a high level.”

To illustrate how much of a downturn 2018 was for Brown, consider this: In the previous seven seasons (2011-2017), he won a combined 40 races. During that same stretch, he averaged no fewer than four wins per season.

“This year, we’re looking to improve upon that and go back to the way that we used to be,” Brown said. “We are looking to give Torrence Racing a run for the championship (he’s best friends with defending Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence).

“We want to be able to go out and compete for our fourth title. Our main focus is to be in a good position heading into the Countdown to give us a chance to bring it home.”

Admittedly, Brown lost in a very close first-round battle to teammate Leah Pritchett at Pomona, but he’s ready to shake it off and move on to next weekend’s race in suburban Phoenix.

“We’re always working at getting better at Don Schumacher Racing,” Brown said. “These Matco Toyota boys have put the work in during the off-season, getting the car right.

“I’ve been working out hard and gotten myself physically right. I’m coming in with no aches or pains and in some of the best shape I’ve ever come into a season in. We’re poised and eager to go out there and compete.”

And as the late NFL team owner Al Davis used to say – and a philosophy Brown lives by every day: “Just win, baby.”

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Graham Rahal’s “Weighty Issue”

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses laser to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around, there was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“I’ve done one treatment,” Rahal said. “It takes a long time, I think. It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car and that can determine. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter weight drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is, so on…”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy…

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (bleep), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”