Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – COMMERCE, GA – The string of three straight NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series races ends at this weekend’s 38th annual NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, and after two early exits, Top Fuel standout Antron Brown is ready to end this stretch on a strong note, while also adding a pair of noteworthy accomplishments to his impressive resume.
The three-time world champion suffered back-to-back first-round losses in Houston and Charlotte, a matter he hopes to rectify in his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster at Georgia’s House of Speed. An Atlanta win would give Brown a Top Fuel-best fifth at the track, and would also give the talented veteran his 50th career win in Top Fuel. That would make for an impressive turnaround after the past two events, and Brown knows his team will keep working hard.
“The hardest part is we’re pushing hard and wanting to run well,” said Brown, who is currently fifth in Top Fuel points. “We’ll just suck it up and try to get better with it. This racing is a challenge and if it was easy, then everybody would be doing it. A lot of the big hitters went out early (Sunday in Charlotte), but a lot of the mid-level teams had some good runs. They hit it right and we just hit it wrong. We all have to adapt to it. We just need to keep pushing forward.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Bo Butner (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 finals coverage starting at 6:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, May 6. It is the seventh of 24 events in 2018 and Brown is still searching for his first victory of the year.
He advanced to the final foursome at the four-wide race in Las Vegas, also posting two other semifinal finishes in 2018, but the road to his 50th career Top Fuel has taken longer than expected for Brown, who has 65 total wins counting his 16 in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Brown and his team, led by crew chiefs Mark Oswald and Brad Mason, continue to push in the right direction and he believes the team will end up in a strong position in the near future.
“We’re growing, we’re learning, and we just need to keep pressing, moving forward, and growing and learning from there,” Brown said. “We’ll make it better. We’ll just keep evolving and keep adapting and, trust me, this team does not quit. We’ll be back, we’ll be strong. We’re taking it one step at a time and it’s coming. We’re going to be fine, we just need a little bit of time.”
Odds are, Brown will respond from the brief struggles with an impressive stretch and it could start in Atlanta. He has six career wins at the track, including four in Top Fuel, but picking up a victory this weekend won’t be easy. Brown will face off against the likes of Torrence, the defending event winner who picked up his third win of the season last weekend in Charlotte, Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher, who is looking for his first career Atlanta win, Clay Millican, 2016 event winner Doug Kalitta, Terry McMillen, Leah Pritchett, defending world champion Brittany Force, and Gainesville winner Richie Crampton. But the further Brown advances in eliminations, the more his confidence grows and he’s hoping to finish the deal for a fifth time in Atlanta.
“The main thing is just making it to the finals,” said Brown, who has three wins at Atlanta Dragway since 2011. “Once you get to the finals, it’s anybody’s game. We were close in Las Vegas, we just had a couple of mishaps. With that being said, we just need to remain poised and keep working hard. It’s still early in the season.”
Ron Capps is looking for his first 2018 win in Funny Car, and will face off against stars like points leader Jack Beckman, Phoenix winner Courtney Force, and defending world champ Robert Hight.
Bo Butner, the reigning Pro Stock world champ and current points leader, won in Pomona as the class has had a different winner at each race in 2018, including Charlotte champ Erica Enders.
LE Tonglet had six Pro Stock Motorcycle wins in 2017, but is chasing points leader Andrew Hines, Gainesville winner Eddie Krawiec and Charlotte champ Jerry Savoie in the two-wheeled class.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the NHRA Southern Nationals include Don Garlits, Warren Johnson and Rhonda Hartman.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 6:45 p.m. on Friday, May 4 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 5, at 11:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 6.