Month after fiery crash, Brown wins Gatornationals

Updated at: 03/22/2013 3:09 AM
By MARK LONG

(AP) GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Antron Brown still has some lingering back issues following a fiery crash at last month’s NHRA season opener.

Celebrating a victory at the Gatornationals on Sunday surely helped ease the pain.

Exactly a month after a harrowing wreck sent Brown sliding across the Pomona track with little left of his dragster, the defending class champion found his way back to the top of the field.

Brown used the fastest pass of the day to edge Clay Millican in the Top Fuel final Sunday, covering the 1,000-foot strip in 3.761 seconds and reaching 318.77 mph.

"No, there were no thoughts (about Pomona)," Brown said. "What you do is you have to treat each run as its own run. ... You can’t think about what happened in the last run, whether it’s a world-record run or you flipped upside down.

"If you don’t, these cars go so fast that if you’re thinking about something that you’re not supposed to, you put yourself in a serious, dangerous moment and the other people that you’re racing against."

His win was his 22nd in Top Fuel and gave Don Schumacher Racing its 200th career victory. Only John Force Racing has more wins (218) in NHRA history.

Schumacher picked up win No. 199 just a few minutes earlier when Johnny Gray beat Del Worsham in the Funny Car final. It was Gray’s fourth career victory and first in the 59-year-old driver’s final season. Gray plans to retire at the end of 2013.

And winning did nothing to change his mind.

"It’s very grueling just to come do all the races and all the traveling that’s involved," Gray said. "There’s a lot of other things I want to do. Anybody my age will tell you it’s fun to kick a kid’s (butt). That’s just fun. But it’s time to go play with the kids and the grandkids."

Schumacher donned a red hat commemorating his 200th victory and broke down in post-race interviews while talking about how he couldn’t celebrate class titles in Top Fuel and Funny Car last November because his mother died the day of the NHRA banquet.

"I haven’t had joy really since then," Schumacher said, pausing to compose himself. "Today brings a special meaning to all my efforts out here, for all of these years, from the mid-60s until today."

Schumacher won five times as a driver. The other 195 victories came from drivers: son Tony Schumacher, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan and others.

The list, of course, includes Brown and Gray.

Brown walked away from the season-opening crash mostly unscathed. He got back in the car two weeks ago at Phoenix, but lost in the semifinals.

"I bruised my spine, so it just takes time for the bone to heal," Brown said. "It is what it is. In another few weeks, I’ll be together. In Phoenix, when I stepped on the gas, it kind of hurt where it took your breath away. Here, I’m almost back to a hundred percent and ready to race."

Brown had four of the top five passes of Sunday’s finals. He knocked off Larry Dixon, Steve Torrence and Spencer Massey en route to the final.

"Hopefully we can just put Pomona behind us and keep moving forward," Brown said.

Other winners included Allen Johnson and Hector Arana Jr.

Johnson used a hole-shot victory to edge Jeg Coughlin in the Pro Stock division. Coughlin had the faster quarter-mile time, but Johnson beat him off the line and down the track.

Arana won the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, besting his father in the semifinals and edging Steve Johnson in the final.

It was a rough weekend for all the NHRA points leaders. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Capps (Funny Car) and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) lost before the finals.

Thanks to Brown, Don Schumacher was the big winner.

"You don’t count things like that," he said. "At least I don’t. You don’t look to win 200 NHRA national meets. That’s an incredible number. Never thought it would happen. Never even considered it. ... These races are very, very hard to win. (Cars) are very close, very tight. ... It’s a tremendous reward. My family and I are thrilled, pleased."

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)