Interview with 2012 NHRA Top Fuel champ Antron Brown
Hanging with Antron Brown at the DSR Shop
story, video and photos by Tim Hailey
A 41 minute mega interview with Top Fuel champ Antron Brown and DSR Sr. VP Mike Lewis
Just after Thanksgiving, with Antron Brown's dramatic NHRA Top Fuel championship still fresh, Eatmyink's Tim Hailey interviewed Brown at the huge Don Schumacher Racing shop in Brownsburg, Indiana. Brown and the DSR team were already busy building his 2013 car, as you will see in the video above. "Believe it or not, I can't even tell you what vacation is," Brown said later, just before February. "But we're going to try. Me and the wife, we always go for vacation for a week before the season starts. We're going to be leaving this week coming up and go on a seven-day cruise. We always do it on our anniversary when we got married, which is always the beginning of February. That's what we look for on our vacation. During the year, it's planes, trains, automobiles, hotel rooms. When you get home, it never stops. If you want to compete at the level we are now at NHRA racing, you have to have an A plus game every week if you plan on just trying to win a race and also trying to compete for a championship.
"We came back after Thanksgiving, we broke down our car we just got done racin. Got totally revamped, then went right into the enclosed cockpit where we started massaging it, I'm sitting in the car, getting everything adjusted for how I want it to feel. It's just been non-stop with brand-new safety equipment from Impact coming in. Our weeks have been full of development going forward, not just in performance but in safety also here. The canopy on my racecar is here to stay. It's on there, locked, sealed, and delivered. My racecar that I'm driving has the canopy on it and my backup car has the canopy on it. After driving with it down the racetrack several times, when you look at what you used to race, you're like, I don't want to go back there. You go from a 3/16th inch piece of Plexiglas between you and 330 miles an hour, now you go to a fully enclosed cockpit that's got ballistic windshield that's bulletproof, then you have all the struts to support and embrace your cockpit better where it gives you a lot more support and makes your area stronger where things can't even come to you. We're definitely happy we have that on our racecar now.
"The thing about it was, it deadens all your senses, like your hearing. Before, a lot of people think you're in a Top Fuel car, you hear the roar from the stands, but the only thing you hear is the whine of the motor. In the cockpit, it actually deadens the noise around you now. You don't have no light come in over the top of your head, so it's dark and you can visually see going out that front windshield, where it actually makes it look like you're looking through a little magnifying glass now. You can see finer details than you used to. The only other thing about it is that the windshield doesn't go all the way back on the sides, so the peripheral vision that you're used to seeing on the side, you don't see that no more. But it does do some different stuff when you're backing up. Now, my guys had to slow me down because I couldn't tell how fast I was backing up when I was backing up in testing because I couldn't see the sidewalls like I used to. You gauge your speed out of your peripheral. That was the biggest thing. Everything else was the same, identical. It was really easy to jump in it and go after it.
"We took the sunroof effect out! The only thing that you gain by putting the canopy on now is you gain about 20 to 25 pounds of weight. Definitely when you put it on, you're putting it on there because you want to be in a safer racecar. My vision is clear looking through it going down the racetrack. The only thing we had to adjust for, if you look at our canopy, like the windshield, the front of the windshield is not flush with the bottom of the deck of like the car. It sits up about I'd say an inch and a half. What happens is my old seat I used to have in my car, it was sitting low in the car. It had me sitting where I'm looking over the deal, I couldn't see the front wing of the car. We ordered a new seat (from Eatmyink neighbor Bald Spot Sports) that raised me up about an inch and a half and brought my vision right back to where it was with the old cockpit we used to have on the racecar.
"The windshield glass is very, very thick in the racecar. Everything else, like, I mean, is pretty much like standardized, mandatory. We can't make anything different because we don't own it anymore. Aerodyne Composites owns it, where everybody orders it. When it comes out, everything is identical from car to car. Brittany (Force) is running one also. It's identical to what's on my car. The safety guys know what to do. Another thing we have is we actually have a fire system inside our cockpit now, too, that the other cars don't have. Like when I got in that fire in Pomona, when the fire came underneath there, if I was sitting in that car there, my fire-bottle (onboard extinguisher) would have gone off, I would have had to get out of the car as quick as I can. We also have an onboard air system that goes to our helmets, too. The reason why I had to get out of the car so fast in Pomona, when the flames came up, the nitro and flames came up, it took my breath away making me gag. That's why you saw me bending over the wall because the nitro fumes got to me. We have everything like a Funny Car has except we have it in our Top Fuel cockpit now.
Brown has also been busy with his fitness routine. "Three days in the gym, two days playing basketball. I've been keeping up that regimen all season so I come back in tip-top shape. Let me tell you something, when you go through the racing season where I'm not in the gym as much as I am in the off-season, you can tell when you come back. It definitely took me a few weeks to get readjusted to that again."
Antron did spend some time with his other racing love—RC boats. "That's my hand-eye coordination, something I get to do. I get to go out there. It's not just racing them, it's also building the engine, I do know. It's a lot of fun to play with that stuff. I can literally play with it, go out to a race, race it, and I never come back hurt. I might have a cut from a prop or something like that, but I come back physically okay so I can still do my normal job. I hung up my motorcross boots and dirt bikes, because those things I can get some serious injuries from. I put that to the side, do stuff that's more laid back. This upcoming year I have another hobby, my son Anson is getting into junior dragsters. Another couple weeks, got the enclosed trailer coming. I'm going to turn into a crew chief and watch him go down the racetrack and make the calls on his racecar."
Antron keeping the candles lit last year at Maple Grove. MORE PHOTOS
Brown looks forward to starting 2013 where 2012 ended, at Pomona. That was the site of the wild celebration when Brown's teammate Tony Schumacher lost to Brandon Bernstien by 6 inches, securing the title for Antron. "When we pull in there, I'm just going to remember back a little bit of last year. But last year now is pretty much done and over with. So we're back at work, just like usual. We're putting those hours in. The effort is definitely going forward. We want to contend for a championship again and we want to defend our title. We saw a bunch of other teams step up at testing, Brandon's car was running exceptionally well, our teammate Tony Schumacher and Morgan Lucas, and the Kalitta cars were running good and both Al Anabi cars were running good. You have a lot of people coming out there this year and they want to win. This is going to be another year where the competition level is going to be at an all-time high."
All though it was nip and tuck for a bit, DSR will once again be fielding a three car Top Fuel team. Spencer Massey was canned after some drunken misbehaving at the NHRA banquet (where he brought his own cooler in—college style!) that may or may not have included some insults thrown Antron's way. Now suddenly, Massy is back in DSR's good graces. "I spoke to Spencer at the test session in West Palm Beach. Actually, I spoke to him the day after (the awards ceremony). I wasn't there, so I have no idea what was said or what was done or what happened. It's just that he basically just apologized. Things got a little out of control where alcohol was involved. At the end of the day we're professionals in front of everybody, and that's what he was apologizing about.
Massey and Schumacher layin' down the clutch dust in the TF final last year at Indy. MORE PHOTOS
"He was very affirmative and apologetic, but he told me he didn't say anything towards me. That was my understanding. My deal was, like, you know, I wasn't there to hear this. We got numerous stories from all different types of stuff that was said and spread and everything else. The only thing I could do is take Spencer's words for what he said to me. Me and him had a fine relationship this whole last year as teammates, you know what I mean, and that's what I went off of. I went off of the relationship that me and him had throughout this whole year and the year prior, which was fine. After that, like, you know, the other deal, from what Don and everyone else told me, the whole dismissal deal, him leaving our team, at the end of the day it boiled down to sponsorship. There was no sponsorship here. I believe what Spencer told me. I accepted his apology just because it was like our time on the stage of winning the championship. He's a good kid at the end of the day. He's a great racer. I have a lot of respect for him as a racer. I hope to race him out there one day soon because he definitely was one of the best racers out there. He almost won the championship the last two years in a row, contended for it. That's where I stand with Spencer."
It was Don Schumacher who made the call to fire Massey and made the call to rehire him. "He's very, very competitive," Antron said about his boss. "He's got a real strong eagerness to win. That's the best way to describe Don because he does not like to lose. He gives everything he's got. You know what I mean? He rubs off on you. There's no excuse. Eagerness to win and no excuses. The 'no excuse' part is you don't make up excuses. When something doesn't go right, you go right back to work. You don't say, this is why it happened. You go back to work to fix why it happened. You get what I mean? That's what he's about. He's a man that wants results. That's the best way I can describe Don to you.
"He lets the teams actually just like fight amongst themselves. He gives each and every team at this shop everything they need to be successful and compete for championships. The U.S. Army car gets nothing different than my Matco Tools U.S. Army car or the FRAM car did. It's up to us to do what we want to do. He supports us in each and every way. At the end of the day, if you deserve it, you're going to get it. You can't take nothing away from his son Tony because he's the seven-time world champ. He's done it because that team has earned it, not because one of his teams stepped out of the way and let them get it. That's the way we do it over here at DSR. You see a lot of racers that like to come over here and race for Don because we race that way. There's no team orders over here. We push each other to another level. I think that's what you saw between all three of our dragster teams and Funny Car teams last year, where we push each other to another level that really helped us in competing for a championship. That's why you saw us finish one, two and three in the points."
Brown expects the intense competition in the class to continue this season. "Top Fuel pound-per-pound is a rough category. I can tell you when I first got into this class, there were like four cars that won. You know what I mean? It was Tony Schumacher winning on a consistent basis, then besides that you had David Powers’ team, the team I got on, was their competition against them. Allen Johnson was Tony Schumacher’s crew chief. Then you had the Kalitta cars. Now you literally have 14 teams that can win week in and week out. We had an array of different guys that won this last year.
Khalid al-Balooshi's Reading win showed how quickly he and the Al-Anabi team rebounded from a slow start
"When Brittany Force comes in, she's going to be on a great team. Her dad is going to give her the best equipment. Dean Antonelli has tuned that racecar. They ran good in testing. When they come out, the car is going to be capable, she's going to be capable of driving it, but now she's going to have to line up against some of the fiercest racers in the business. She’s going to have a lot more work cut out for her than when I first started.
"At the end of the day, to be honest with you, it's kind of like a track sprinter like where I came from. Being quick is not something that you learn; it's either you are or you're not. You know what I mean? Look at Shawn Langdon. He is one of the quickest leavers in the sport, period. Shawn didn't teach himself how to be a quick leaver, he was just a quick leaver, even when he was a bracket racer. You get what I mean? Either you can run a 4.3 40 (yard dash) or you can't. When she gets over there, she's going to have to get comfortable with it and attack it as hard as she can. What she's got, she’s got. The hardest part is how to dictate that car down the racetrack, how to know what to do when things happen, let off the gas pedal or stay in it, correct the racecar. Those are things that come in time. But to be a quick leaver off the tree, be consistent, that's something that is pretty natural. Then you have to be able to do the same consistent thing week in and week out, too. The consistency comes with experience. If she’s a quick leaver, that's what she can do."
No doubt with her genes and environment, Force will be a good talker. But then again, so is Brown...don't you think?