COMMERCE, Ga. – Athletes often talk about being in the zone, a feeling where nothing can go wrong.
It’s a feeling Top Fuel standout Antron Brown can relate to at the moment, and the 2012 world champion is taking full advantage of a hot streak that has impressed everyone in the motorsports world.
Brown, who drives the 8,000-horsepower Matco Tools dragster, has won two straight races in the ultra-competitive Top Fuel ranks and has advanced to the finals in four of the past five events. It makes him the points leader and hottest driver in the class heading into this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, and very much in the zone.
“It feels good that we’re in stride right now,” Brown said. “Going into the race you go with confidence when your car’s running good and how the team is operating. One thing I really love about our team is that it doesn’t matter what we did before our first qualifying run, it matters how we end up in qualifying. It matters how much we grew with each run. We’ll have problems at every race, but we’ll grow from it. We get our car into a zone that it’s ready to race on Sunday.”
Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event.
Heading to Atlanta Dragway for the seventh of 24 races during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is also ideal for Brown when it comes to keeping this hot streak going. He is the defending event winner at the track and has achieved considerable success at the facility, dating back to his Pro Stock Motorcycle cycle days. In all, Brown has five victories in six final round appearances in Atlanta, with three of those victories coming in Top Fuel (2013, 2011, 2008).
“It’s always been a good race track for me,” Brown said. “I distinctly remember winning there on the U.S. Army bike when I beat Andrew Hines in the final (in 2006). I remember getting my second Top Fuel Wally when I beat Tony Schumacher on a holeshot (in 2008). That was a huge deal because that was the era when no one was beating Tony.”
As for what makes Atlanta Dragway special, Brown talked about the fan-friendly atmosphere the track provides, as well the memories it brings up of Brown’s early racing days.
“It reminds me of one of the old school race tracks that I grew up on around New Jersey,” Brown said. “When you go there it’s the history and environment that brings you back to when you were a little kid. The stands are really close to the drag race and the old-school drag racers come there. It makes me feel like where it all started for me and I just think about going fast and going faster.”
That hasn’t been a problem in 2014 as Brown and his Matco team, led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, have been on point. It’s a stark contrast from a year ago when the team struggled to find its combination, but that hasn’t been the case this season with Brown rolling to victories in Phoenix, Charlotte and the most recent event in Houston.
Despite everything coming together, keeping that dominant upper hand will be difficult against a loaded Top Fuel class. Doug Kalitta, the early-season points leader, has two Atlanta victories and other championship contenders include Tony Schumacher, defending world champ Shawn Langdon, Spencer Massey, 2012 Atlanta winner Steve Torrence, Khalid alBalooshi, Auto Club of Southern California Road the Future Award winner Brittany Force and J.R. Todd.
“The main thing is we know what our team is always capable of,” Brown said. “We know we have a really good chance of winning every race if we do our jobs right. What’s so good about our Matco Tools now is that we’re operating on all eight cylinders.”
The 16-time Funny Car world champ, John Force, has seven wins in Atlanta, the most for any driver in a pro category, but Force is looking to break a nine-year drought at the track. He’s also chasing teammate Robert Hight in the points standings after Hight won for the third time in four races at Houston. Two-time Funny Car world champ Tony Pedregon has three wins at Atlanta and 2012 world champ Jack Beckman has two while other standouts include Tommy Johnson Jr., Alexis DeJoria, Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Del Worsham, Cruz Pedregon and Bob Tasca III.
In Pro Stock, Erica Enders-Stevens won for the second time in three races by winning at her home track in Houston and the class points leader is poised to possibly become the first female Atlanta winner in Pro Stock. Four-time world champion Greg Anderson returned to his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro in Houston while his KB Racing teammate Jason Line took the season opener in Pomona. Defending champ Jeg Coughlin, a five-time world champion, has two wins in Atlanta but will be looking for his first since 2010, but will face stiff challenges for contenders like teammate Allen Johnson, Dave Connolly, Shane Gray and Vincent Nobile.
Returning to Atlanta Dragway is appealing for the two-bike Pro Stock Motorcycle team of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines. Krawiec, a three-time world champion, is the most recent PSM winner in Atlanta and also won in 2009, while Hines, the current points leader, won at Atlanta Dragway in 2010 and 2008. A host of challengers, including Hector Arana Jr., Gainesville winner Steve Johnson, defending world champion Matt Smith, Michael Ray and Scotty Pollacheck, will try to slow down that momentum.