NHRA

NHRA: Give Steve Torrence T for Texas and A+ for performance

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They always seem to do things bigger in Texas, and when it comes to NHRA drag racing, Steve Torrence is living proof of that.

The Longview, Texas native has absolutely demolished the Top Fuel ranks the last 18 months. He captured his first-ever championship last season after winning 11 of 2018’s 24 national events – including becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win all six races of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Torrence has picked up where he left off from last year’s championship – winning six of the first 12 races in 2019 – and he potentially could wind up winning even more races this year than last.

Torrence has built a big lead in the Top Fuel standings – at 304 points over Doug Kalitta, that’s the equivalent of nearly three wins points-wise. He literally could take a couple of races off and not be too all that worse for the wear.

Steve Torrence.

Now Torrence prepares for another race – and very likely, another win – in this weekend’s NHRA New England Nationals, July 5-7, at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire. He won there in last year’s race and he’s ready to make it back-to-back triumphs.

But like any smart Texan, Torrence is following the same playbook that he had throughout last season, never getting too far ahead of himself.

That’s pretty good odds, but I really don’t want to think about that,” said Torrence, who has 33 career Top Fuel wins. “We’ll look at the points and the stats at the end of the season, and probably not look at them too hard then.

That’s probably something you’ll look at when you finish your career and try to relish those moments. For now, we just want to keep moving forward. We just want to stay on our ‘A’ game and try to run with that through the end of the year.”

All told, Torrence has a combined 25 wins since the 2017 season. No one is even close.

One of the hallmarks of Torrence’s success is his steely eyes and ice in his veins. He is so determined to win that in many cases, he already has a race won before he even leaves the starting line.

For example: Torrence won five races in a row, lost to Mike Salinas at Bristol, Tennessee, and strongly rebounded to win June 23 in Norwalk, Ohio.

It didn’t do anything to us mentally,” Torrence said of the final-round loss in Bristol. “You know at some point something’s going to happen even if everyone does their job perfectly. It’s racing.

We just took the punches and came back out here. That’s all you can do. You go back out and race. We want to win every race we go to. You’re not trying to play strategy and get into the top 10. We want to win all of them. That’s the mindset that we have.

You still want to win championships and we’re still motivated to go out there. Yeah, we’ve set some records and done some things that are neat and prestigious, but there’s always those guys that are ahead of you.

There’s still a long ways to go and a lot of success we need to try to achieve to be in those ranks with Tony Schumacher and John Force, and the legends of the sport. We’re going to do as much as we can and enjoy it because at some point this ride will come to an end. We’re going to try to have a good time doing it.”

NOTES: 16-time Funny Car champion John Force continues his bid to finally earn a milestone 150th career win this weekend. … Qualifying for this weekend’s race takes place Friday at 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET, as well as Saturday at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET. Final eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m. ET.

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NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

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There will come a day that when three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown wants to talk to his boss, he’ll need to look no further than in the mirror.

The New Jersey native announced Tuesday that he has begun to lay the groundwork to own his Top Fuel team, eventually branching out from Don Schumacher Racing.

“It’s definitely exciting, but at the same time, it’s also nerve-wracking because the buck stops here right now,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Now the coolest part is you get to help and drive and motivate and push the team forward, to make decisions and leave a legacy behind for my family.”

Brown will continue racing for DSR this season while beginning the transition to eventual sole ownership of the new AB Motorsports in the future. Even when he officially leaves the DSR camp as a hired driver, Brown and his new team will retain a technical partnership with the Schumacher organization.

Moving toward team ownership is just a natural evolution for Brown, who previously ran his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team from 1998 until joining DSR in 2002. It’s also a move that potentially may lead other current drivers to start thinking about their own futures.

It’s no secret that many of the biggest names in drag racing – both drivers and owners – are getting up in years. John Force will soon turn 72, while Schumacher is 75. They’re among several others in the sport who are making contingency plans for their teams to continue to operate once they’re gone – and Brown wants to do his part to help the sport grow and flourish.

“When you’re able to have ownership, you’re looking at the talent coming up,” Brown said. “You’re able to reach down and see and give other people opportunities that you had. When I came to race for Don Schumacher at DSR, he’s given all these people at his place this opportunity to drive.

“But what happens when the Don Schumachers, the John Forces, the Connie Kalittas go? You lose all the owners of our series, so who’s next in line to take over that lineage or carry that torch? It’s a necessary means for the future for the upcoming people.

Antron Brown’s plans to become a team owner were embraced by his current team owner, Don Schumacher. (Getty Images)

“I’ve been in this sport for over 20 years. This is the next evolution of my chapter, the next page of my book. What am I going to do when I decide to hang the helmet up one day? I want to be there to bring that new crop of drivers and talent up and help mold them to be the best version of themselves to carry the sport forward and to share with them what was shared with me over all my years in the sport, from Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Mark Oswald and Don “Snake” Prudhomme, all the people I looked up to.”

While Brown will start as a single-car team once he transitions to ownership, he hopes to eventually build AB Motorsports into at least a two-car operation, with his Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car.

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The path to eventual ownership began nearly a year ago when Brown and Schumacher discussed the future.

“Me and Don had a heart-to-heart talk,” Brown said. “When I told him what I wanted to do, Don said, ‘Antron, I know this is what you want to do. I’ll support you in this.’

“That’s a cool experience when you have a gentleman that has done everything in this sport, from over 350 national event wins, 17 world championships – and I’ve done three with him – and is in every motorsports hall of fame there is.

“What is he going to do next? He’s making the sport better by pushing people like myself to do what I’m doing now. No matter how long it takes, I know I have him on my backside, pushing me to get to that point.”

Like father, like son: Antron Brown and son Anson, who is following in his father’s drag racing footsteps. Photo: Antron Brown’s official Facebook page.

His family’s future also figured into Brown’s decision. His oldest son, Anson, soon turns 16 years old and is heavily involved in NHRA’s Jr. Dragster program, as are Brown’s other children. It’s likely his son some day will follow in his father’s footsteps.

But don’t think that the elder Brown, who turns 44 in March, is ready to hang up his firesuit just yet.

“I’ll stop driving when I feel I’m not capable to drive no more and I’m not having fun no more,” he said. “That’s nowhere in the near future. I know I’m going to drive for at least another 15 years.”

Heading into this season, Brown will retain current sponsorship from Mac Tools and Toyota, as well as associate sponsorship from Hangsterfer’s on his 11,000-horsepower dragster. Global Electronic Technology also has signed on as a new associate sponsor in a multiyear deal.

“It’s no secret this has been a goal of Antron’s for a while now, and I’m happy to be able to provide the tools and resources needed for him to be able to successfully branch out on his own,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “It’s important for me to see my team members grow.”

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Brown burst upon the NHRA scene atop a Pro Stock Motorcycle in 1998, earning 16 wins over the next 10 seasons. He joined DSR in 2002 and made the switch to Top Fuel in 2008.

Since then, Brown – who now resides in suburban Indianapolis – has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history with 50 national event victories, as well as three championships between 2012 and 2015.

That performance recently earned him AutoWeek magazine’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade.

Brown also announced Tuesday he is reuniting with former crew chief Brian Corradi, who returns to the team after spending the last two seasons as co-crew chief for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. Corradi will share crew chief duties for Brown with NHRA veteran Mark Oswald.

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When he won his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African-American world champion in Top Fuel history. He hopes his move to ownership will continue to grow NHRA’s already significant focus on opportunities for minorities and females in the sport.

“I think it’s important across all spectrums, period,” Brown said. “I think a lot of fans see me, and they can relate to me because I am them. I came from a good, hard-working family in Chesterfield, New Jersey, which is right next door to Trenton.

“Everybody in my family from my great uncles to my grandpop made their own way, had their own businesses, from swimming pool to paving to septic tank businesses.

“One thing my grandpop said to me is the world is wide open. He said, ‘Son, you can have anything you want in this world, as long as you put the effort and put the work towards it.’ If people can resonate with my story from where I came from and where I’m heading, I hope it gives them this energy, this ray of hope that ‘if Antron Brown can do this, so can I.’

“That’s the only way for motorsports to grow. It’s for the young ones to get interested in it and I want them to know the opportunity is there. All they have to do is take it.”

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Brown will be among more than 30 Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who will take part in this weekend’s annual preseason “spring training” test at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in preparation for the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Feb. 6-9 in Pomona, California.

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