NHRA: Antron Brown may be parked for now, but his motor is far from idle

Photos: Toyota/Don Schumacher Racing

During the current work stoppage due to coronavirus, Antron Brown typically spends up to two hours a day working out to stay fit for his day job.

So when the pandemic subsides, Brown can go back to a regular work day, which typically lasts between 7 1/2 to 15 seconds in total.

That is not a misprint.

If he gets to the final round in a NHRA national event, Brown will typically make four runs in the 3.75-second range each time. Do the math: each time Brown goes to work, he typically travels about 330 mph at around 3.75 seconds on a 1,000-foot drag strip. With four rounds of final eliminations. that’s a maximum 15-second work day.

And there’s no chance for overtime.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Antron Brown would typically take numerous 3.75-second Sunday drives. Photo: Toyota/Don Schumacher Racing.

The suburban Indianapolis resident is one of the top drivers on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. A three-time Top Fuel champion, Brown may currently be sidelined from competition like so many others due to the pandemic, but he is far from idle.

“I’m staying active in the race world, so to speak, not just from a social media standpoint but also developing and doing other things to keep my mind in line on what we’re going to do (when drag racing restarts) because when we get back, it’s going to be a crammed season,” Brown told NBC Sports. “We’re going to do a lot of back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back races.

“The NHRA has a game plan if we start in June, July or even in August. We’re going to race something this year and the later (the sport resumes) goes, the more you have to be in shape and in line.”

The 44-year-old Brown’s daily physical regimen includes biking, jogging and full-speed running, jumping jacks, weight lifting and more.

His three kids are also giving him a different kind of workout, Brown said with a laugh.

“I’m enjoying the time my kids and family,” he said. “I’ve never been home this much to be engaged with them like this every day. I feel like I’m Mike Brady (the father) of the Brady Bunch. It’s like my station wagon is parked in the garage and I’m home all the time.

Instead of driving a Top Fuel dragster, Antron Brown is driving a lawn mower. Photo: Antron Brown

“I’m cooking lunch for the kids, washing dishes in hot water in the sink rather than using the dishwasher and I’m wiping down counter tops 50 times a day. I feel like a housekeeper.

“I’m even cutting my own grass. Before, I used to have a landscaper cutting the grass, but then I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this.’ If I can save a buck here and there, I don’t need to spend money if I’m home and can do it myself.”

Brown also has plenty of chores and projects to work on. One of his biggest currently is redoing his drag racing simulator so that it is a virtual duplicate of the cockpit in his real-life Top Fuel dragster.”

The other significant project Brown is working on is preparing to transition from driving for Don Schumacher Racing, which he has done since 2009, to owning his own team. That team would still be affiliated with DSR, but Brown would be the man paying the bills and controlling his own longterm destiny.

“(The coronavirus) impacts everything we’re doing, but it makes you do different things and go different routes,” Brown said. “My plan was to (start his team) by the end of this year, to take it over.

“That’s still my main focus, but at the end of the day it depends on what partnerships you have. If you have no partnerships, you have no team. All my partners remain strong, but my main focus right now is literally getting back to racing and helping the partners I’m a part of recover from this.

“It’s not going to be like a switch that goes on and everything is going to be okay. It’s how they’re going to get back to where they were and start growing again. Once we get back on that path, I can go back on my path and continue what I was doing, building the new race team and pulling the switch on it.

“Honestly, I think (building his team is) going to have a little delay for it, but my plan is still for 2021 to make that switch.

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

“These are tragic times, but at the same time, through all this stuff you can let it break you or you can look for the opportunity that’s out there. And there’s plenty of opportunity out there actually to figure out how to move forward and then actually go forward.”

Instead of burning up the dragstrip, Brown also spends a lot of time almost every day burning up the phone lines with fellow sidelined competitors such as two-time defending Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, Shawn Langdon, J.R. Todd and Pro Stock Motorcycle champs Angelle Sampey and Andrew Hines (Brown was a former PSM rider before he switched to Top Fuel in 2008) as well as several of the top officials in NHRA.

“We lean on one another to help everyone grow and to support each other,” Brown said. “The thing is you always have to keep moving.

Antron Brown believes in staying in top shape so he’s at the top of his game on drag strips from California to New Hampshire. Photo: Toyota/Don Schumacher Racing.

“That’s the problem with a lot of people. They say they’re bored, but there’s plenty to do. It’s like my kids, there’s more to do than just sit on your computer or phone and play games. There’s lots to do outside like we used to do when we were kids ourselves.”

With NASCAR and IndyCar contemplating returning to racing without fans in the stands at least at the outset to make sure the virus doesn’t make a comeback, NHRA is also eyeing a similar approach.

While Brown admits it will be a strange feeling competing without fans, especially since NHRA drag racing is among the most fan-accessible forms not just in motorsports but all sports, he’s all-in to get back racing.

“I can never imagine that (racing without fans in the stands) in NHRA because that’s what makes our sport really thrive and makes us do what we do, it’s because of our crowds,” Brown said. “I think we have to race with some type of fans, for sure.

“It wouldn’t be worth going back racing unless we can give them entertainment value for TV. So we can race with them there (on TV) until we can get back to being safe where we actually all race together.”

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)