Englishtown’s Old Bridge Township Raceway Park is where it all began for Antron Brown, a guy who grew up watching his dad and uncle bracket race at the historic facility and formed his own dreams of speed in the wake of their tire smoke. Now a leading nitro pilot on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour in his Don Schumacher Racing Matco Tools dragster, Brown realized his early ambitions and has established a new goal: to win the Top Fuel title at his home race, the Toyota NHRA SuperNationals.
“Every time we come back to Englishtown, I think about being a little kid and watching those big old bracket races and seeing greats like Joe Amato race there at the Summernationals,” said Brown. “It all feels so surreal now. I remember coming to this racetrack and thinking, 'Man, if I could just be here one day, if I could just do this.' That’s why I never take this for granted and I have that smile from ear to ear. I love this sport so much, and every time I come to Englishtown, I look back and say, 'Man, I’m here.' ”
A win at Raceway Park would not be a first – the esteemed racetrack in the Northeast has oft struck a successful chord with Brown – but thus far, an Englishtown victory in his nitro machine has been just out of reach.
Brown, who raced on the motocross track across from the dragstrip in Englishtown before beginning his professional racing career as a Pro Stock Motorcycle rider, qualified No. 1 in Englishtown in 2001 and 2005 and won the event aboard his Suzuki in 2002 and 2005. When he moved up to Top Fuel, the New Jersey native qualified No. 1 at his home track in his first season of dragster competition (2008) and finished in the final round at the event in each of the following two seasons, ultimately forfeiting the trophy to Larry Dixon both times.
While he definitely has his eye on the prize again this weekend, the driver with seemingly boundless energy recently made a departure from straight-line racing to lay a little rubber on an oval track when he and Tony Schumacher were invited to light into dual burnouts for an exhibition at NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“That was one of the coolest experiences of my life, especially to go out there on Memorial Day for all the soldiers,” said Brown. “It was a huge deal, and it was very meaningful.
“They are circle-track racers there, but we’re all racers, and we all have respect for each other. The coolest part was when we lit our Top Fuel cars up, all the crew guys who had been working came out of the garage and up to the wall to watch us do our burnouts. The fact that they had just as much interest in watching our racing as their own made it a really cool deal, and it felt special to see all those guys want to see what Top Fuel cars are all about.”
What it’s all about for Brown is the battle for the championship, and he has been one of the top contenders for the points lead this season. Three times he has taken over the highest, most coveted position, and thrice it has been snatched from his grasp – each time by one of his DSR teammates. Eight races into the season, Brown is third in the standings; teammates Spencer Massey and Schumacher hold down the Nos. 1 and No. 2 positions, respectively.
Antron Brown and teammate Spencer Massey own two of the top three spots in the NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel standings.
“There is no love lost between first and third right now, even though we’re teammates,” said Brown. “We go out there, we have a lot of respect for one another, and we know what each of us is capable of. The funny part is that we’ve lost against each other more than anybody else this year, and that tells you how strong our teams are. The lead has gone back and forth, the points are tight, and that’s about what I would expect from our class right now. It’s not just us; there are so many great teams that can actually win rounds and win races on any given day. I think this is the toughest competition that this class has seen in the history of Top Fuel. This year is definitely going to be one of those standout years.”
Brown will have the opportunity to reposition himself as the leader of the pack at this weekend’s 43rd annual Toyota NHRA SuperNationals, and he relishes the chance to do so in front of family and friends at the racetrack where he discovered his passion.
“The track definitely holds a lot of great memories, and it has held some success for me,” said Brown, who receives sponsorship from Toyota, the title-sponsor of the event. “I’ve won there in the past – but to win Top Fuel, the premier class, at your home track? It doesn’t get any better than that. If we can get that huge feat done and go hoist that Wally, the only thing missing from my résumé would be winning the world championship.”
For tickets for the Toyota NHRA SuperNationals, call Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, 732-446-7800, or log on to RacewayPark.com.