BROWN SHARES DSR MEMORIES, HOPES TO COMPLETE PUZZLE AT BRISTOL
Top Fuel ace Antron Brown has accumulated a wealth of knowledge during his 13 years with Don Schumacher Racing (DSR). And he has made a million memories.
But one thing he hasn’t done is win a race at Tennessee’s Bristol Dragway, where the Camping World Drag Racing Series will reconvene this weekend for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
“Winning Bristol would be huge. Bristol’s the last piece that we need to complete the puzzle in winning at every event on the schedule. We can’t wait to get out there. It’s always been a special place for us, and we’ve been close numerous times. It [would] be huge to be able to bring that win home and put that whole picture together for all the years I’ve been at Don Schumacher Racing,” Brown said.
After the race at Bristol, just two more events will bring Brown’s successful tenure at DSR to a close. And what he said he treasures in his heart is “just all the fellowship with the people that are there. You rub elbows with the best of the best in this industry at DSR. It’s been like being part of a dream team for so many years that you’re able to pick up so many different mindsets, not just from drivers like a Tony Schumacher, but just watching the way people do things – and how people do things so differently to open your mind and absorb it.”
The three-time Top Fuel champion – who earned all of his titles with DSR – said that when he rejoined DSR in 2009, he didn’t imagine what personal and professional achievements would come his way. (He previously had raced for the organization, along with Angelle Sampey, when their Pro Stock Motorcycles carried the U.S. Army banner.)
“You can never foresee things of that nature. For me, it was just to contribute to the mindset of all the people that were around me. When you surround yourself with people that have passion and desire, success is right there,” Brown said. “That’s what I never realized. When I got to DSR, I knew what we were capable of, because all my team came together. But then we had the backbone and the structure, the R&D, the engineering, and the parts and pieces with the fab shop to make those championships happen.”
He knew DSR was the gold standard in drag racing, so he said he “was just very grateful and blessed. I felt honored to come back to the DSR stable, where they breed champions. I was with David Powers, and I thought we had a championship contending team there. Then we were with Mike Ashley, where we put ourselves into a position to win the championship. But then we had one bad race in the Countdown, and it cost us a shot at the championship.”
Immediately he could sense his new boss’ commitment to excellence: “I remember when we came into DSR and the first thing was Don saying, ‘OK, let’s get what you need.’ We took the tech truck down and turned it into a full-blown tech trailer. Then we took our hospitality trailer and turned it into a full-on race operation. I just remember when we came in Don had that willingness to win and was willing to do whatever it takes to win – that’s putting the work in, having the funds, and putting those funds to work to go out and compete to win.”
And at the core of all that was the people.
Brown said, “The biggest thing I’ve learned across the board is that people are key. Having the nucleus of good people around you makes great things happen. They say it starts at the top and there’s that trickle-down affect, but there’s only a trickle-down if you have good people. That’s one thing when you look at DSR through all these years, all the great minds and grew crew chiefs and the brain trust they had, where they competed and pushed each other to high levels. I remember a year where we finished one-two-three in the points in the Top Fuel category.
“That’s one thing I’ve learned being with DSR: You have to put the work in to be successful. You’ve got to outwork your competitors. When they’re out there running, you need to be out there running. When they aren’t in the shop, you need to be in the shop. You must have the mindset and focus,” he said. “You must know that some days you’re going to take two steps back but know that the next day, you’re going to take two-and-a-half steps forward.”
No one becomes successful without partners, and Brown and DSR are no exceptions. In Brown’s case, Matco Tools and Toyota were with him from the beginning.
“I can tell you that Matco Tools has been instrumental in my entire career. They were the ones who gave me that first shot to drive the car when I came from motorcycles with no fuel experience,” Brown said. “They saw something in me to give me that shot. My relationship with Matco has grown into family. I became part of the Matco brand. I owe them everything.
“Toyota has been there from Day One. I remember when we left David Powers and they were on the fence because their relationship was with him. They took a chance. I told them I love being a part of this family, and I know you don’t know me well – but trust me. Once we became part of that family in 2009, we’ve never looked back. They’ve always been supportive and always pushed me to the limit,” he said.
While he said he has loved the interaction with a broad spectrum of individuals, he said, “Some of the best memories have just been being a part of the innovation side of things.”
DSR has a massive footprint at Brownsburg, Ind., with its 150-square-foot space that can house more than 20 haulers and has a manufacturing operation – DSM Precision Manufacturing – that produces more than 400 engine and chassis parts and is complete with fabrication and carbon-fiber shops.
He said he’s amazed “when you’re in that shop and you see all the people in the room and create things like the enclosed driver compartment, the new state-of the art chassis that you share throughout the industry with other teams and share the artistry and technology of things, like our cylinder heads before where we were just a step above before NHRA put in the restrictions.”
On track, Brown said one of his most vivid memories was when – and how – he clinched his first Top Fuel crown, in 2012. It happened at the Final at Pomona, Calif., a continent away from where Brown grew up in New Jersey and fell in love with the sport through his father’s and uncle’s participation at the grassroots level.
That 2012 Final came with some help from Brandon Bernstein – against his DSR colleague Tony Schumacher, who twice literally had pulled off last-second-of-the-season heroics to win championships.
“A lot of people who know me personally know that I’m a strong believer of Christ and have a strong faith,” Brown said. “Honestly, the crazy thing at that race was that we had put the work in all year long and did our part. We qualified in the top three at most of the races. We won races and never lost in the first round the whole entire year – and then we lost in the first round in the Countdown at Las Vegas when we had a control module break when we were way out in front and lost by .003 of a second. Then at Pomona, we were way out front and had a brand-new fuel line break on us and lost. Then Tony going out there in the semifinals and Bob Vandergriff getting out in front of him and broke a crankshaft.
“I remember Tony coming up to the line in the finals and I’m thinking, ‘Oh man, here comes one of those monumental runs and he’s going to drop low E.T.’ He had lane choice and was racing Brandon and he and Brandon always had a little bit of a feud going on. I wasn’t rooting for anybody, because I went in there thinking what is written is written,” he said. “Down on the line, one of our crew guys said, ‘A.B. can you believe this?’ And I told him, ‘This is in God’s hands. We didn’t even have to show up at the last two races to win this championship.’”
Brown recalled, “Brandon was always a good leaving on the tree, but he wasn’t an .030 or .040 guy. He always cut .050s, 060s or .070s, which is really good. He raced Tony, and Tony threw down a .050 light and Brandon left on him, cutting a light in the .030s, and beat Tony on a holeshot in the final round. When I saw that, I looked up there and said, ‘Thank you, God. This is your championship.’
“All of our guys were so deserving,” he said. “It felt like the championship that slipped away in 2009 was given back to us.
“Another memorable moment was in our 2015 championship season, when we beat Larry Dixon in the semifinals at Maple Grove [at Reading, Pa.]. That race really defined where we were heading,” he said.
“I just remember Larry and I both dropped low E.T., 3.71s each. He had a later light, and I had a .038 light – and had already turned an .034 in the first round – and we got the win. Our team was operating in a whole other zone, all in unison. The car was running phenomenal, and our whole team was running on eight cylinders. Brian and Mark were making all the right calls. The crew was impeccable. Then we beat Tony in the final,” he said, “and I remember it like it was yesterday, because it was the turning point of our winning that second championship.”
After looking back on his time at DSR, Brown said, “The one thing I would say to Don is that I was so truly blessed to be there for all those years, racing for him. It was an honor to be on that team and win those championships for him. I can’t thank him enough for all he’s taught me throughout the years – business-wise and mind-set wise. Don knows when he needs to push people. He’s straightforward and tells you how he feels. He’s not trying to hurt your feelings. And I have always had a great respect for him. He wants to win just as bad as you want to win.”
That includes a 367th victory for the team this weekend at Bristol.