Antron Brown was the last driver to sweep the famed NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Western Swing, doing so in Top Fuel in 2009. A victory on Sunday in Denver has him headed in the right direction to do it again, but the three-time world champ knows plenty of major challenges are waiting over the next two weekends.
The first comes at this weekend’s 30th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway, where ideal conditions and fast times are the norm a week after racing on the mountain. It’s a big adjustment, but it’s just the type of challenge the back-to-back world champion likes – and usually thrives on – driving his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster.
“It’s tough,” Brown said. “The conditions and the changes that these crew chiefs have to make in three weeks is what makes it so difficult. (Crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) are the best of the best and we’ve done it before and we’d love to do it again. It’s getting tougher every year to win one race, let alone three in a row. We’re having a good season but there’s a lot more racing left to do and we just want to continue to get better every weekend.”
J.R. Todd (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 30. It marks the 15th of 24 events in 2017 and the second of three stops on the NHRA Western Swing.
In years past, Brown and his team have shown an impressive ability to build towards something special as the season progresses, peaking perfectly during the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. This season seems to be going their way as well after winning for the third time in 2017 in Denver and moving to second in points behind five-time 2017 winner Steve Torrence. Brown, who knocked off Don Schumacher Racing teammate and three-time season winner Leah Pritchett in the final round, knows that nothing comes easy in the class, especially when lined up against his teammates.
“We race hard and that’s the hardest part when you’re racing your teammate — you have nothing to lose and you better bring your A-plus game,” said Brown, who has 64 career wins, 48 in Top Fuel. “It’s the same thing when racing all the other cars out there. Anybody can win on any given Sunday. It doesn’t matter where you qualify, it’s whoever has it together on Sunday. That’s been proven race in and race out this year.”
That level of competition brings out the best in Brown, who has managed to raise his performance each of the last two seasons. Reaching a new level is the goal over the final 10 events in 2017, with the hopes of possibly sweeping the Western Swing and certainly performing well in Sonoma, where Brown’s partnership with Toyota makes the weekend an important one.
“We’re where we’re at because we never quit,” said Brown, who has four Sonoma wins, the most recent in 2015. “Everybody wants to work together to beat each other. When you motivate each other to beat each other, you raise it to a different bar. We elevate each other to a new level. All the other teams have elevated themselves and it’s anybody’s race. You’ve got cars out here that can win and set world records every weekend. We’ve got to step up and try to go to another level.”
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-870-RACE (7223). Tickets also are available online at www.sonomaraceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.