Hoosier Drag Racer Antron Brown Named National Hot Rod Association Driver of the Decade
Antron Brown is a household name in the drag racing industry. He is a National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel World Champion three times over, with a slew of career event titles including 50 in the Top Fuel Class and 16 in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. Just this winter, he was named the NHRA’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade, an honor even he didn’t see coming.
“Just to be racing for a decade is awesome,” Brown says. “To be named driver of the decade is just something else.”
But the trophies and lights don’t blind him to what’s really important and how he got here in the first place.
“The crazy part for me personally is I have never looked back at what I’ve accomplished,” Brown says. “I’m always looking forward to what else I can grasp. I’m in the middle of my career, I’m still strong and still fighting. I’m always looking to be better. That’s what you have to strive for.”
Brown’s work ethic and his love for racing both started at an early age. Growing up on farmland in rural New Jersey, Brown comes from a strong line of do-it-yourselfers. They had their own excavating and septic tank services, owning and servicing their own tractors, dump trucks and septic tank trucks. Brown was always helping his dad and uncle fix equipment.
He also remembers their love for racing. Both his dad and uncle were and still are avid NHRA Sportsman racers. They caught the racing bug from Brown’s grandfather, and Brown is continuing the tradition by passing his passion down to his own three kids by introducing them to NHRA Junior drag racing.
Brown himself has fond memories of racing as a youngster, remembering how his dad and uncle worked hard during the week and raced hard on the weekend. When Brown was four years old, his dad got him his first dirt bike just after he learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. He raced his minibike on the 15 acres of land behind his grandparents’ house. He also distinctly remembers when his bike broke down. His dad and uncle would show him how to fix it so he could fix it himself.
“I didn’t realize what an amazing opportunity that was at the time,” Brown says. “I thought that was a normal way of life.”
Brown soon began to race motocross, which introduced him to the wide world of racing. The pace and thrill grabbed his attention, and he couldn’t get enough.
“Lo and behold, I realized this is what I wanna do,” he says. “This is me.”
Brown remembers one poignant moment as a child he will never forget. He was attending his first National event in Englishtown, New Jersey. His family had taken him to see the “big boys” and “big girls” race pro stock motorcycles. Brown was exploring the pit when he happened across one of his heroes, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, an American drag racer who is still considered the father of drag racing.
That particular summer, Brown was a scrawny 10-year-old on the small side, but he made up in confidence what he lacked in height. He walked right up to Garlits and chirped, ‘How you doin’, Big Daddy?”
“I’m good, how you doin’, little buddy?” Garlits answered.
Brown says he peered right up into Garlits’ face and said, “Why they call you Big Daddy? You don’t look that big to me!”
Brown remembers the moment fondly.
“’l’ll never forget him looking back at me and saying, ‘Cause I’m big in heart, son,’” he says. “That made a lifelong imprint on me that brought me to where I am today.”
Today, Garlits is a mentor for Brown, his cell number in Brown’s phone for encouragement and advice.
Brown continued to pour all his time and energy on racing, his eyes on a fast and endless future. Through his teenage years, he traveled up and down the east coast on the weekends racing.
But it all came crashing down on a fateful day when he was 15 years old.
Brown was racing motocross at a friend’s house and got into an accident, his arm pinned behind his head with a posterior dislocation and a fractured rotator cuff. Following surgery to reset his arm, Brown’s mom sat him down.
“She told me to slow down with racing, finish high school and just be a normal kid and have fun,” Brown says. “The whole deal changed for me. I had these dreams of one day becoming a pro motocross racer. After the accident, I gave up on it.”
While motocross took a back seat, Brown couldn’t stay away from racing and took up racing street bikes. In the meantime, he finally put some thought into his future following high school.
Brown got his Associate of Arts degree in Business Administration at Mercer Junior College, all while competing in sports. He walked onto the track team as their fastest sprinter, and he received a full scholarship for numerous Division I schools. He was ranked No. 1 in the country for the 55-meter indoor dash.
Always aiming high, Brown chose to attend Long Island University to train under Olympic athlete Chris Carter. A student-athlete with excellent grades and No. 1 ranked times on the track, Brown thought he was set for his future until fate stepped in once more. A phone call from NFL cornerback Troy Vincent to his dorm room changed everything. Vincent, who had just recently married Brown’s cousin, wanted to start a racing team and asked if Brown was capable of racing Pro Stock Motorcycles.
While the decision was tough, Brown couldn’t say no to his first love of drag racing.
“My mom supported me 100% and said if it was something I was truly passionate about, why would she ever hold me back,” Brown says. “And my dad said of course, since I paved my own way.”
That was the start of a career rich in victories and big names. Another hero of his, and eventually Brown’s mentor, NHRA rider Dave Schultz also became a part of his team to make what truly was Brown’s dream team. Brown raced Pro Stock Motorcycles for 10 years, collecting 16 victories in 33 final rounds, 11 No. 1 qualifying awards, and twice finished second in point standings, both in 2001 and 2006.
If that wasn’t enough, he signed on with David Powers Motorsports to drive the Matco Tools dragster in 2008. He amassed his biggest victories in the Top Fuel class, the transition an explosive one as he became the first driver in NHRA history to win races in both Top Fuel and Pro Stock categories. He continued on to win three Top Fuel World Championships in 2012, 2015 and 2016.
While proud of these accomplishments, Brown spends his time working for the future and giving back to his community. He is a keynote and motivational speaker to school groups and students across the country representing his partners Marco Tools and the U.S. Army. He strongly encourages youngsters to set goals and focus on working hard to attain them. He also speaks at NHRA events like the YES (Youth Education Services) program, where high school and college students are brought to the track to learn about careers and opportunities in motorsports and drag racing.
“Anything you can do in the normal world, like mechanics, engineering, being a chef, doing guest services, all of it you can do here at Don Schumacher Racing,” he says.
Brown also is a member of Racers For Christ, a church at the racetrack that binds many drag racers together in bible study, prayer and other encouragement and support. It’s a place, Brown says, that makes the drag racing community a family, always helping each other out.
Living in Brownsburg with his wife and three kids, ages 18, 15, and 11, Brown spends most of his free time, not surprisingly, back at the drag strip helping his kids learn the sport that taught him the importance of hard work and basic know-how. He makes them prep their own tires, check the air pressure, fuel up their own cars, clean the belt on the clutch, and drain the oil at the end of the week.
“It’s a family-oriented sport,” Brown insists, explaining one of the big reasons he loves it so much. “Every ticket is a pit pass. Everything’s wide open. You can walk up, see the people you saw on TV, talk to them, touch them. As a kid, you can visualize yourself there one day.”
That one day for Brown has been his entire career of successes, but he’s not close to being done yet. As always, Brown’s aim is for the future, announcing earlier this year he plans to form his own Top Fuel racing team called AB Motorsports. A dream come true, it’s the pinnacle of Brown’s racing career and a goal he has had for a long time.
He credits his career mentors, the nature of the sport and the work ethic instilled in him by his family for where he is today.
“This sport really is a best-kept secret,” Brown says. “If people can see me, and if they can say hey, if Antron Brown can do it, so can I, then that’s what I want to leave behind for my legacy.”