For Antron Brown, Route 66 Raceway represents the best of both worlds and that could make for a very happy Top Fuel driver during the 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, June 26-29.
The Friday and Saturday night qualifying session under the lights often yield remarkably quick and fast times, something that Brown, who holds the national E.T. record, certainly enjoys. But Sunday’s eliminations during the summer heat make for a different strategy and shifts the focus to smart driving and dialed-in crew chiefs.
That is also where Brown and the team directing his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools dragster thrive, meaning the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ annual trek to the state-of-the-art motorsports facility located just south of Chicago could bring out the best in Brown in 2014.
“Our team likes those kind of conditions,” Brown said. “We do well in those conditions and our team seems to adapt well when situations like that come up. We’re in a good place right now as a team where we can really grow and get ourselves in tip-top shape for the Countdown (to the Championship).”
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. The O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals marks the 12th of 24 events during the 2014 NHRA season and Brown will head there filled with championship aspirations.
A three-time winner at the track, including twice in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Brown’s lone Top Fuel victory in Chicago came in 2012, the same year he clinched his first Top Fuel world championship.
“I’m always excited and I always enjoy going to Chicago,” Brown said. “It has always been a really good racetrack, especially since you’re racing there in the summer. If the air gets right, the track can get really tight there and you get really excited.”
A year ago, Brown qualified 11th with a solid performance of 3.805 seconds at 314.97 mph, which meant an incredible 10 drivers dipped into the 3.70-second range, led by Morgan Lucas’ track record 3.737. Brown is ready for more quick times in qualifying this year and has the dragster to do just that.
Currently second in points, Brown, who has 44 career victories, went to four final rounds in a five-race span early in the year, winning in Phoenix, Charlotte and Houston. But Brown was involved in a spectacular high-speed crash at the next event in Atlanta and though he walked away uninjured, the team was forced to build an entirely new car.
The team suffered back-to-back first-round losses following Atlanta, but rebounded in Bristol, advancing to the semifinals, then went to round two in Epping. The other good news was the new car impressed immediately in Bristol, leaving Brown excited with its potential.
“Our new car is working just like the old one did before the accident,” Brown said. “That one was running great and now we’ve got another one just like it. We’re back to full go and we’re excited to see what it can do. It ran great in Bristol for the first time having it out and it’s time to get after it.”
Brown has his work cut out for him trying to track down Kalitta, who has been to an impressive seven final rounds in 2014. But Brown is also wary of the other threats in the class, including Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher, who has a class-best four victories in Chicago, 2009 event winner Spencer Massey, reigning Top Fuel world champion and recent Bristol event winner Shawn Langdon, 2013 Auto Club of Southern California Road the Future Award winner Brittany Force and Englishtown winner and rookie driver Richie Crampton.
“Right now everybody is shooting for Doug,” Brown said. “Those guys have put it together. We’ve done that to, but we’ve had some hit-or-miss races as well. But you also have to watch out for the Al-Anabi guys, Richie (Crampton), who has done well as a rookie, and my teammates Tony (Schumacher) and Spencer (Massey). You can’t forget about Brittany (Force), either. Really, there are so many good cars and good teams running well in this class. But you have to go through the best if you want to be a champion.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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 in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time 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.
The race also will showcase the thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the fan-favorite JEGS All-Stars competition.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, June 27, with sessions at 4:30 and 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 28, at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 29.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Route 66 Raceway at 888-629-RACE (7223) or visit www.route66raceway.com.