Brown records fastest qualifying time


MORRISON, Colo. -- As a sprinter in college, Antron Brown had fast wheels.

Now a top fuel driver, his wheels are even quicker.

Brown has the top dragster going this season, leading the NHRA points standings heading into this weekend's competition at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals.

"This has been like a fairy tale season," said Brown, who had the fastest qualifying time Saturday night as he flew down the track in 3.862 seconds. "This is just a big dream of mine."

Brown was once at a crossroads in his career, trying to decide between racing track or dragsters.

A 100-meter thunderbolt at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey, Brown was fast enough to qualify for the U.S. championships in '97.

While Brown could glide down the lane in 10.21 seconds -- his fastest time ever -- he craved even more quickness.

So when his cousin, longtime NFL cornerback Troy Vincent, called him at his dorm room one night in '97, offering to sponsor him on a pro stock motorcycle, Brown jumped at the chance.

He instantly traded his spikes for bikes.

Brown then made the quantum leap from motorcycles to top fuel in 2008, a move that just doesn't happen all that often on this circuit. It's like a pitcher in rookie ball getting the call up to the New York Yankees midway through the season.

"That's a freak deal," Brown said. "That's just not normal."

It didn't take him long to reward team owner David Powers' decision, rocketing up the charts and finishing fifth in points during his first season sitting in the seat of a dragster that travels more than 300 mph.

Then came the anxious times.

Powers sold the team last December due to financial constraints. The new owner, Tim Buckley, sold it again a month later to Mike Ashley.

Everyone except Brown re-interviewed for a position. That led to crew chief Lee Beard leaving for Don Schumacher Racing, and Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald taking over.

A team on the rise suddenly had a lot of turnover.

With the ever-affable Brown being the constant, the team hasn't missed a beat. They've got a 53-point lead on Larry Dixon midway through the season.

"Got a team of all-stars," said Brown, who's the only African-American racer in the nitro divisions this season. "I feel like I played for the Boston Celtics last year and got traded to the Los Angeles Lakers this year. I'm living my dream."

There's always a part of him that wonders what he could've accomplished on a different track.

He had a standout career at Mercer and was set to attend Long Island University, possibly even making a run at a spot on Team USA for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

That's when Vincent called. A motorcycle aficionado, the Pro Bowl defensive back wanted to set up a team.

And he wanted Brown on board.

It didn't take long to convince Brown, who grew up riding motocross.

"I love running track, but racing is where my passion was," said Brown, who bought the team from Vincent after the 2000 season.

The 33-year-old Brown learned the ropes of racing from longtime rider Dave Schultz, who died of cancer in 2001. Schultz served as his mentor, his adviser.

"He was the Michael Jordan of pro stock motorcycles," said Brown, who won 16 times in the bike division over 10 seasons. "He taught me a lot."

Then Brown jumped over to a nitro car, an opportunity he'd been waiting for.

"I've been politicking to get into one of these cars," he said, laughing. "It finally came to fruition."

He's a popular figure on the scene, fans lining up outside his trailer at races to get him to sign anything they have handy.

Brown is always quick to oblige.

"This is cool," said Brown, grabbing a picture of himself and penning his name across the image for a kid wearing a shirt with his likeness. "I was the same way. I was once the one on the outside looking in."

NOTES: Hector Arana had the fastest qualifying time in pro stock motorcycle Saturday, while Mike Edwards turned in the top performance in pro stock. It's the seventh time this season Edwards has been the No. 1 qualifier. ... Funny car driver Ron Capps' crew chief, Ed "Ace" McCulloch, has been more aggressive in the tuneup of the car during the qualifying rounds this season. It's paying off as Capps earned the No. 1 qualifying spot Saturday, the third time he's done so in 2009. The team had just one over the last four years. "He's had more of the eye of the tiger," Capps said, smiling.