Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – DINWIDDIE, VA – After enduring a fair share of struggles over the past two seasons, Antron Brown believes his team is on the verge of something special. Following a number of changes dating back to the start of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the Top Fuel star is confident the team has finally hit its groove, and Brown is anxious to see it all come together at this weekend’s second annual Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park.
Brown and his team have shown all the signs of a winning car the last handful of races, and now the three-time world champion is ready for the payoff in his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools dragster. He’s confident it can come on the ultra-fast racing surface at Virginia Motorsports Park, and it’s just a matter of putting the last three races together during one weekend.
“The car is there and now we’re getting our bearings right,” Brown said. “We had a new combination starting in Pomona and the more laps we get, the more we figure it out. We’ve learned a lot and to see the way the team has gelled together has been amazing. We’re getting things worked out and it’s shown a lot of potential. We know this car can 60-foot now. Before, we had to make it up, but now we’re leaving with the front runners and that’s a good sign.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of a race that will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) in 2019, including final eliminations coverage starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 19. It is the eighth of 24 races during a 2019 NHRA season that has started to come together for Brown, a 66-time event winner who has endured plenty of adversity since the start of the 2018 campaign.
The team dealt with personnel changes and a major switch in the engine combination a year ago, winning just one race. That was a far cry from the past seven seasons when Brown won four or more races each year, but the veteran star has stayed the course. They changed the combination on the dragster to open 2019, but things have come together quickly. Brown advanced to the final round in Houston, qualified second in Charlotte and posted the quickest qualifying time in eliminations at Atlanta, giving Brown every indication things are about to change.
“To get ahead, you have to do some things different,” Brown said. “It was just a matter of keeping guys heads up. There were some rough times. We’re used to winning and running for titles, and when you don’t or you win once like last year, it can take a toll on you mentally. But we’ve learned from those struggles and we grew from it mentally, and when you get through it that energy perks up. Everyone’s attitudes are a little different and we’re hungry.”
Brown is thrilled to get to Virginia, where he will take on a talented Top Fuel class that includes points leader and defending champ Steve Torrence, who has back-to-back wins, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Clay Millican, Leah Pritchett, Doug Kalitta and Richie Crampton. It will be a tough road to get back on top, but Brown likes what he’s seen from his team, which is led by crew chiefs Mark Oswald and Brad Mason, and he’s ready to pounce in Virginia.
“The track is super smooth and the (Franklin) family does an incredible job with the track,” Brown said. “We’re going to go out and hit it hard, and it’s going to be nice. We felt (Atlanta) was our race to win, so we’re ready to race in Richmond right now. When you’re on the verge of something and it’s there, you want to race right now.”
Funny Car is loaded with talent, including points leader Robert Hight, defending world champion J.R. Todd, John Force, Matt Hagan and Ron Capps, who won the most recent race in Atlanta.
After a six-week break, the thrilling Pro Stock class returns in Virginia. Everyone is chasing points leader Bo Butner, who already has three wins in 2019, while others to watch include Phoenix winner Jeg Coughlin Jr., Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Erica Enders and Alex Laughlin.
Looking for their first victory in Richmond in Pro Stock Motorcycle are a number of talented competitors, including defending world champ Matt Smith and points leader Andrew Hines.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the fifth of 12 stops in 2019 at Virginia Motorsports Park. Defending world champion Mike Janis is the also defending Pro Mod winner at the race. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
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 unique 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.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Virginia Motorsports Park will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their NHRA Virginia Nationals victories.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:45 and 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 17, and the final two rounds of qualifying at 12:45 and 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, May 18. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, May 19.