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November 3, 2016

Antron Brown

Glendora, California

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us on this teleconference this morning. We will be talking a little bit about the Auto Club NHRA Finals, the 52nd Annual Auto Club NHRA Finals coming to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona next weekend, November 10th through 13th. This is the final race of the season and final race of the six-race Countdown to the championship playoffs.

We're currently joined by Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster. Antron clinched his third and second consecutive Top Fuel World Championship last weekend at the event in Las Vegas. He raced to seven victories and 11 final rounds this year. Antron, thanks for calling.

ANTRON BROWN: Any time. Any time.

Q. You're the world champ once again. How does it feel?
ANTRON BROWN: Oh, it feels great. It feels great. It'll never get old. This is what we all work so hard for. We had a really good season, and the Countdown, again, was good to us because unfortunately we messed up in St. Louis, and it set us back, but we were able to rebound and use that after St. Louis, adjusted after St. Louis, rebounded and came out the next three races with our head down, qualified well.

That's what really set the tone, and I think that's what our team with Brian and Mark and all of our Matco Tools boys did well is that we adapted to the situation where we just kept working hard at it, where we said, you know what, to put ourselves in a better situation we need to qualify better, and that's what we set out to accomplish, and we achieved that. We've qualified in top 5 every race since then, and it really set us up for race day to go rounds, and that was the main thing, going rounds, getting lane choice, and coming off, peeling off with a few race wins there, and it really helped us clinch that championship again this year.

THE MODERATOR: You had some early hiccups in the season, but as the season went on, you just got better and better and better. What did you learn about yourself and your team down the stretch?

ANTRON BROWN: Well, what we always knew, I always say that I have one of the best race teams in the business because we're able to adapt to so many different situations. If the track -- if we go to races where the track can be stellar at nighttime but then be the hottest, slimiest, tire spinning track during the day, our team is able to adapt to those situations, and that's what we're really good at. And when we have those types of races, that's where we really shine, and then when a track gets really good, we can throw down and when the track gets really tricky, we can go down the racetrack and run some exceptional laps, and that's what it takes now in this era to go out there and to compete and to win championships, and that's what we really focus hard on.

We struggled the first -- people say struggled, but it was only the first three races of the year when we came out. We qualified well, but we had a new clutch pack in our car where it made our car very, very aggressive, and we just had to get used to it, to adapt to it to get our window back on how good our car runs, and every team goes through that, and it's just what you have to go through. And once we got our window back to where we know how to run like we're capable of, we went back to work and back to business as usual, and that's just running as hard as we can with the track that gives us, and it gave us some great opportunities, and we were there in the end to bring some race wins home and really set us up for the Countdown.

Q. When you look back at each of the wins you've gotten this year, which one -- because I know they were all great, but which one is just a little bit better than all the others?
ANTRON BROWN: That's a good question. That is a very good question. Like you almost got me at hello. (Laughing). No, let me stop joking around. I'll tell you, you know which one really, really sticks out to me is Charlotte, North Carolina. We have two. I would say Charlotte and I would say Redding really sticks out to me this year because the reason why I'm saying Charlotte is just because it was the first race of the Countdown, and we didn't qualify that good at that race. I think we qualified, I forget, I think seventh, or maybe not even seventh, I think we qualified tenth. I believe we qualified tenth at Charlotte.

But then we fought through the adversity that we went through because we had some issues in qualifying, and we fought through and we became a force to reckon with on race day, and we brought the wins home, and I remember that just fighting through it because the competition we had was just ridiculous that we had, all the cars that we had to race.

And then I would say Redding was a big one for us because that was our bounce-back after St. Louis, after losing first round in St. Louis, where we only had one round of qualifying going on, and we never qualified good because we weren't qualifying like we're used to qualifying, and we came out there and we qualified No. 2 with only one lap down the racetrack. So that was kudos to Brian and Mark and all of our boys for throwing that great lap out with only one run to get it done in, and then bouncing back on race day, and we got better and better with every run, and we raced the racetrack, and we pulled that win out. Those are the two that really, really, really stand out to me this year.

Q. You win two championships in a row; how hungry does that make you to keep winning championships throughout your entire career?
ANTRON BROWN: Well, I can tell you this right now: That is the reason why we pull our trailer into the racetrack every race. Even though we won the championship -- let me tell you something. Even though we won the championship in Vegas, I was in the truck like, I've got to go. We've got to get ready for the semifinals, and they wanted to celebrate. I said, celebrating, no, we can wait until the end of the racetrack.

When we're out here racing, our team and our mindset, including myself, is that we love -- we love the challenge and the thrill of competition, and that's what drives us, and the competition gets better, it makes us better, and that's what we thrive off of, and there's only one thing we know how to do. We're not going to come out next year and say, we're the champs from 2016, so it's ours. No, we know it's going to be rougher for us next year, and we're looking forward to that challenge, and we're about to step that bar up again, that gain, and it's going to be a blow-by-blow race, and we're ready to come out next year swinging, and we're ready -- I mean, we're looking forward to that challenge.

Our main focus is to come out and be able to compete for a championship and have a shot at it, at the last race to win it, and that's our goal each and every year, and that goal is not changing, and we're driven even more because once you have a taste of it, it's like, hey, like somebody gave you this juicy steak dinner that you ain't never had before, and they gave you a bite of it, and we've had three bites of it. There's still a lot of bites left on that steak, and now they're pulling that plate away, and that's what they do at the every year at the end of the year. But we want another bite, so we're going to go after it just as hard as we did the last three that we've won. We're going to go after it just as hard as we can for sure.

Q. Just like last year, you had a stellar performance in the Countdown for the Championship, forgetting St. Louis. What is it about the playoffs that gets that excellent performance out of you and your team?
ANTRON BROWN: It's that everything is left on the line, and the pressure is at an all-time high. We know the stakes are intense that we're going after and that you can't mess up. Like if you go in No. 1, you can mess up one race and you have to rebound fast, and we know that going in that, you know what, we go in there with that even mindset that, all right, this is for all the marbles; six races decides everything, and there's 24 rounds up for grabs. Let's go out here and grab as many as we can. It's survival of the fittest, and we're going after every nook and cranny, and we take it hard and we take it seriously.

Q. You described it so well here; one of my questions was even though you have the championship in your pocket again, how intensely were you going to race here at Pomona coming up? And what changes may you make in the team or in the car?
ANTRON BROWN: Well, when we come to Pomona, I can tell you one thing, that when we race at certain races, we race strategy. We race the racetrack, and I'd be lying to you, you look at your competitors and you try and look and see what you need to run to win that round. That gives you the best percentage value to win that round. That's what everybody does in statistics, and we go in there and we go, all right, we need to run this.

Well, Pomona, the cool part is that we're going to go out there and we're going to run hard, and the good part is we have nothing to lose, and we can go out there and we can try to rotate the earth, we just hope the earth goes with us so we can actually make some world record setting runs and have some fun with it, and then on race day, we're going to race to win. We're going to push a little harder than we normally push, but we're going to push because you have to now to win a round of racing, whoever you race, because all these cars are running so good. Everybody, every team out there is capable of breaking a world record at any given time if the conditions yield it.

So you have to go out there and run and make those runs if you -- I mean, if you're trying to win that round, you have to go out there and give it your best shot so you can go there and have a shot at winning the race. Well, when you have a shot, you can make it to the finals, but to get there, you have to get through some serious competition to make it there.

Q. And that serious competition, you will match it because you run like you described it, you said you run with all your heart, even though you have the championship in your pocket, you're not sitting back?
ANTRON BROWN: Oh, absolutely not. We went there last year and we lost in the final, and we were sore that we lost. We lost to our teammate in Langdon with the Red Fuel car by I think it was like five or six thousands of a second, and we backed our car off because we ran low ET in the semifinals, but we actually threw a rod, we broke a rod, and we went in 70 flat and didn't even make it to the finish line. We were about to run a 60 out there, like a high 60, and then we went to the finals and we backed our car down thinking like, all right, we don't want to do that again, and it wasn't a tune-up, we just had a rod that just went south on us, and we slowed up and we went like a 72 with a three to Langdon's 71 with an eight, and me and him both had ideas for reaction times or something like that or it might have had to buy a couple off the tree something like that and made the race close, but we were like, if we didn't back off, that was our race for the taking.

And that left a wound on us all last year. We were like, man, we would have a championship, but we could have won eight races last year, and that would have been something special, and in our books it was already special by winning seven and winning the All-Star Race, but when you win a race you don't get that race back, and when you're out there trying to push and be a part of NHRA history, that's one that we let slip away from us for sure.

Q. Antron, I've got a couple questions. You mentioned that the pressure is at an all-time high. How important was it for you to get away for a few days and go with Steve Torrence and just hang out and do some hunting to blow off some of that pressure?
ANTRON BROWN: I'll tell you what, that's what you call balance. You have to balance when you get into these situations, and sometimes you just need that peace of mind to get away from everything. When I got to go down there with old Stevo, we had such an incredible time together because me and him are really, really close friends, really, really close friends, probably my best friend in drag racing outside of my team.

Me and him really got to hang out and cut loose, and when we got to go shoot some guns, it takes your mind off of what you would think about if you were sitting at home or you're at the race shop, where you just think about everything that's about to happen, the next week that you're going to the track. All it does, it just bogs you down and stretches you out and drains your energy emotionally because you're so focused on the end game, and you want to make it that same result of winning that championship.

Where it felt really, really good to break away and get a breather and get a breath of fresh air. Nobody is around, just me and Steve, and I think it did him some good, too, where we really just got to relax, and when we came back out in Vegas, he ended up winning the race and I won the championship. I was like, check this out. He goes, AB, want to come back to Kilgore? I said, I might have to. We've got to do this more often, brother, and it just gives you that peace of mind to just go ease your emotions, bring you back down to ground level so you can come back out there, and when you come back out there you're just fresh and you're ready for battle, and you can just see that much clearer, and it helps you focus better for sure.

Q. You mentioned Langdon and I asked you about Steve Torrence. Langdon the last couple years or at least two times in recent history has bookended Pomona, winning the opener and the closer, and Torrence won the opener this year, so even though you're the champion, how can you climb past both of those guys to win the Auto Club finals?
ANTRON BROWN: We've got to go out there and compete. That's the name of the game is they're both aggressive drivers, they're both great off the tree. They have a really good skill set, where Stevo has been a championship contender for the last several years on the brink of winning a championship, and Langdon has done it. He knows what it takes to do it, and let me tell you something, what people don't realize about Shawn Langdon, he's one of my good friends, too, and I'm going to start calling him Professor X, because he studies everybody, what they do, how they do it, their motion, how they stage their car and their characteristics at the racetrack, and he uses it for his advantage. That's what makes Langdon so good is that he is a student and a studier of the game.

I've always done it, but he breaks it down to a whole 'nother level that I never even thought about doing it, and he's really helped step up my game in that aspect, also, and when you're seeing those two, you still never take him for granted on how well you ran the round before. You can go in the next round with lane choice and lower ET, and if you race either one of those cars, they'll take it right away from you and beat you in the lane that's not lane of choice, and that's what you have to go in.

You know where the stakes are at. You know how great your competition is and know how great those two are, but our main focus is that we try to qualify in the higher position where we won't see them until a later round like the semis or the finals, because let me tell you something, if you line up against them in the first or second round, they can give you an early exit really quick, and that's the name of the game is trying to strategize, get qualified well, and don't face an opponent like that until later rounds where all the chips count because it can go either way when you race them. They can take you out or you can beat them, and that's the name of the game, and that's the strategy that we look as a team is to qualify well so you can race a competitor like that in the later rounds.

Q. You're at the starting line concentrating, the green light goes, it's just a couple of seconds and you're down that track, but it takes your crew an awful lot of time to get that car ready, so you're just the end result of a lot of people's hard work. It seems like it's a symphony to me. I watch these guys in the pits, they're just moving around on their own getting all the parts taken care of. How key is that? That's something people just don't see when you're on the strip, what's going on back in the pits.
ANTRON BROWN: That's always been the big key for me. It's always been -- that's why everybody always hears me say we, us, the Matco Tools team. You never hear me say me because it's not me. I'm just the last one that gets to step on the pedal. I'm just the one that gets to tear it all up or blow it up or turn the win light on at the end. That's it. The guys never get the credit that they're due, and I'm glad that you mentioned our team, because that's one thing that we need to exploit more, each guy and what they do.

They work so hard, not just at the racetrack. That's just what they do week in and week out at the racetrack. But even all the hard work that goes back on in the race shop, preparing, making sure everything is flawless, there's not a crack in the chassis, from the engines being put together to precision and perfection, and the cylinder head guy making the cylinder heads right, the clutch guy making every part of the clutch perfect, from the discs being straightened to the levers being right, the blower guy making sure the blower makes the boost the same way every time, the tire guy, rear end guy making sure nothing goes wrong, because not just for us to perform, but they've got my life in their hands. And then our car chief, making sure that every management and keeping all the guys working in unison together, and then you've got our two crew chiefs who orchestrate the strategy and the planning to make it all happen and work. It's just so much that has to happen, and to have a team come together and do what we have done is just -- that's why I tell them I'm always blessed to drive this car because I'm fortunate to be on a team that has this much talent and is truly just an all-star cast of a group and is going to go as being one of the best teams in NHRA history, I can tell you that for sure.

Q. Don Schumacher has put together a whole bunch of those teams --
ANTRON BROWN: And Don knows the magic formula for sure, trust me. He knows it takes not good people but great people, because if you want good, good doesn't get it cut in NHRA drag racing because there's no do-overs, there's no mulligans, you don't get second chances. Your second chance is when you go to the next race and you have a chance to redeem yourself to get back in the game.

And from the Army team with Mike Green to Jimmy Prock with Infinite Hero team, Tobler with the NAPA team, JC the crew chief, Todd, Phil, all of our crew chief list goes on and on and on that we have some exceptional star talented crew chiefs. All these crew chiefs have won championships here pretty much, every single one of them, or has been on a team that's has won a championship if they're running a car now, and when you look at all of them, you're like, man, you look at it, this is kind of like, if you ever want to go to like -- you go to an All-Star team, like you have the All-Star Game at the end of the year like in the NBA or you have the All-American Bowl for NFL, like the Pro Bowl, well, we have the Pro Bowl sitting right here at Don Schumacher Racing. We have the best of the best, and our team takes each other out because they're going against each other for the championship, and you've got Force and all them out there, Lucases and Torrences and Kalittas, but when you come to DSR, we have truly an all-star cast all the way around, and Don knows what it takes to win championships. That's why he's such a successful businessman. He brought that same work ethic and know-how and collaboration to his race teams.

THE MODERATOR: Antron, we're joined by Ron Capps. Do you have any quick words of advice for your teammate down in Funny Car?

ANTRON BROWN: Me and Ron talk on a personal level. He knows what to do. He just got to go out and live it now. He did all the work. The team has done all the work. They did all the preparation. All they've got to do now is just close the eyes, take a deep breath, take it all in, enjoy the moment, and just live it.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for talking with us today, Antron. Congratulations again.

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