Business Alum Antron Brown
Driven to Success in Drag Racing

9/09


Many professors begin the semester by giving students an outline that details the curriculum and class requirements. A Mercer County Community College faculty member who still stands out to professional drag racer Antron Brown was different.

In the two statistics classes that Brown took with Professor Steve Ahn when he attended MCCC from 1995 to 1998, students were not necessarily given all of the information up front.

"In statistics class, you had to problem solve," Brown remembers. "Professor Ahn taught that same way. While he gave you some information, he wanted you to search in the book too. You had to go home and you had to find it.I used to spend, sometimes, two hours a night studying for statistics and finding answers to questions that I needed about the subject. It made me just that much sharper as a student."

Antron Brown ('98)
Photo courtesy of Mike Ashley Racing

Don't mistake the value of a college education, even for someone whose job is to drive 7,000-horsepower dragsters at speeds of 330 mph. Brown's MCCC education helped shape the direction of his life, which today places him No. 1 in point totals in Top Fuel, the premier class of drag racing in the National Hot Racing Association (NHRA). If Brown wins the Top Fuel championship when the 24-event series (including six playoff events) wraps up in November, he would become the first African-American to win a major NHRA championship. He is the top seed entering the playoffs.

"Now when you're dealing with what I do in racing, we're problem solving," Brown, 33, says. "We need to go in there and search and find an answer for all these different figures and questions. Basically, what we have is a science project in racing - science and math. We have to go and problem solve, and the answers are not out there saying, 'Here I am.' You have to go and search for it. I respected Professor Ahn's method once I finished his classes."

Brown's discipline and attention to detail has paid off with his most successful season of racing. He is in his second season in Top Fuel after racing in the Pro Stock Motorcycle division for 10 seasons from 1998 to 2007, when he collected 16 victories and twice finished second in the standings (2001 and '06). His five victories with the Mike Ashley Racing team this season have put him in position to compete for the 2009 Top Fuel championship.

"This season's been huge," Brown says. "This has been a life-long dream of mine to actually compete in drag racing and to make it to the ranks that I'm at right now, which is the Top Fuel.

"In general, it's not just the thrill of the ride or the thrill of the rush. It's the thrill of the technology involved with it. For example, we can make a whole bunch of changes throughout the car and we can actually see them work on the racetrack. It's definitely a team-driven sport."

The Trenton native grew up around cars, especially after his family moved to his grandmother's 10-acre farm in Chesterfield, N.J., when he was 6. His father Albert and his uncle Andre were weekend racers on the sportsman level at New Jersey tracks, and Brown always made himself available for work on the car engines and to learn the family business. In fact, he first operated a motorcycle when he was 4.

To say that Brown, who also enjoys remote-control boats and dirt bikes, is always up for a race is an understatement. He was a standout sprinter and long jumper for the track and field program at Northern Burlington Regional High School in Columbus, N.J. After graduating, he went right into a professional Motocross (motorcycle) career, and then just over a year later he decided to attend MCCC. He earned an Associate of Arts degree in Business Administration and competed for the Vikings' track and field team, qualifying for the 1996 National Junior College Athletic Association indoor track championships in the 55-meter dash as a freshman.

His success at MCCC led to a track scholarship to attend Long Island University.

"The Mercer track program really influenced me," Brown says. "When I was working with (then-coach) Frank Squibb, he taught me how to dedicate myself and to work hard. It wasn't high school anymore. We actually had real workouts - it was like work. I remember waking up 5 a.m. for training.

"We really excelled. I was a captain my first year out there and I was a captain my second year. I said, 'Coach, why are you making me captain?' And he told me I had it in me to be a leader. It's funny that he said that because what I do now in life, at the racetrack, we do a lot race programs for kids. I'm able to help drive them to their careers and show them pathways."

Adds Squibb, who now coaches at Widener University, "Every athlete I have coached since Antron has had to meet the level of professionalism for a college athlete that he helped set in my mind.

"He would spend long hours talking to you about what he learned in his business class or what he thought he was going to do down the road. Just the way he talked you didn't have any doubts that he was going to be successful. He was a very remarkable young man and he always acted beyond his years."

Brown got his start in the NHRA in 1998 when he joined the motorcycle racing team of former NFL star cornerback Troy Vincent, also a Trenton native, whose wife, Tommi, is a cousin of the Browns.'

Brown says the driver of a racing team is like being the quarterback. And the quarterback always gets the girl, right? Brown and his wife, Billie Jo, met at his first Pro Stock Motorcycle race in 1998 in Gainesville, Fla. They now reside in Pittsboro, Ind., with daughter Arianna, 7, and sons Anson, 5, and Adler, 1.

Brown notes that he put his business education to use as he searched for sponsors and did some of his own marketing and public relations while working his way up the racing ladder to the top echelon of Top Fuel. He laughs that he is so focused on what he is doing as a Full Throttle racer that there's not much opportunity for fear to set in. Except when, he says, "I go out there and watch one of my competitors run a race, I'll look at the car and go, 'I do that?'

"The biggest difference," he adds about switching from the Pro Stock Motorcycle to Top Fuel division, "is when I'm driving Top Fuel cars I can't steer it with my body like I used to do with my bikes. It's actually a totally different train of thought when you go into it. You learn to use your hands to maneuver where you have to drive- you can't control it with your body.

"That was the biggest change for me. And just to get used to the acceleration. On the motorcycle, I was going from zero to 100 miles an hour in 1.8 to 2 seconds. Now I'm in a Top Fuel car, where I go from zero to a hundred in .8 of a second. That's a big change. We're pulling 5 Gs in a Top Fuel car, where on a bike we're pulling about 3.5 or 3.3 Gs."

As Brown continues to move forward in life while looking down the lane of quarter-mile drag strips across the United States, he still looks back to MCCC and remembers "how all my professors and teachers were driven and really cared about the students and what they do."

That kind of drive has brought him to this day. "This has been where I've wanted to be since I was a little kid," he says. "I'm very fortunate and I'm very blessed. But it comes from hard work and dedication. And if the door slams in your face, you never give up on it."

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