Antron Brown has had a lifelong infatuation with fast cars.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Brown spent his weekends from an early age watching his father compete in sportsman level drag races.
"I grew up around it, and I developed a love and passion for it," Top Fuel driver Brown said in an interview with theGrio during this past weekend's qualifying session for the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
It didn't take long before Brown was hooked. His passion for racing, along with natural athleticism, propelled him into a professional motorsports driving career.
He raced motorcycles until 2008 when he switched to Top Fuel dragsters.
The year 2012 proved to be historic. Not only did Brown become the first African-American to win the Top Fuel title in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) pro series, but he was also the first African-American driver to win a major U.S. auto racing championship title.
"It feels great to achieve a championship because that's what I've dreamt about all my life and to achieve it not just by myself but with our Macro Tools team," said Brown. "It makes all those long hours, all those long days, all those sacrifices and everything else, worth it."
Long known as the most diverse motorsports in the country, NHRA attracts drivers of both genders and many ethnicities. That the NHRA is ahead of NASCAR in diversity comes as no surprise: it is cheaper to get into the sport as a competitor and a fan.
Still, Brown with his goofy charm and boyish good looks has become a new poster boy for the sport. He is now one of the most popular and charismatic drivers.
"You have to be very mentally focused, almost like a marksman shooting a gun, but on the other hand you need to be in good physical shape to withstand the g-force of the vehicles taking down the racetrack like a fire pilot."
Though not as big as NASCAR or Formula One, NHRA is second to only NASCAR in terms of fan appeal, attendance and sponsorship commitment.
"In the [U.S.], we are the second biggest motor sports, period," said Brown, who is 38. "NASCAR comes in first, and we're second."
"Our sport has always been very popular, especially in the United States. But it is starting to get more globally worldwide popular because they have tracks in Bahrain, Qatar, Europe and Australia."
Still, drag racing is not without its risks. On Friday night at a qualifying run, Brown survived a spectacular crash after his engine exploded as he crossed the finish line.
It's not the first time Brown has been involved in a dramatic crash. His car also blew up at Pomona in February 2013.
"We like living on the edge but don't like when things go wrong," he said. "If I'm still focusing on the crash we wouldn't have been able to step up and do what we did today."
Brown said his main focus is to continue winning more championships, but his long-term goal is to own his own race team: "To give other people a shot and find new talent," he adds.
In fact, two of Brown's children, Anson and Arianna, participate in the junior drag racing series. Following in his father's footsteps, last year, Anson, who was 9 at the time, won the junior finals in the Southeast.
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