Before the first engine fired on Sunday at Bandimere Speedway, it was a sad day for Antron Brown and the Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster team after they learned that Paul Candies, a legendary drag racing team owner from Louisiana, died at the age of 74 after apparently suffering a heart attack the night before.
Especially hard hit was Mark Oswald, one of Brown's crew chiefs. Oswald drove for the famed Candies and (Leonard) Hughes for 11 years, including 1984 when they won the NHRA Funny Car world championship.
"He was an excellent man and had a pure love for this sport as much as anyone who has ever been out here," Oswald said. "He meant everything to my career. I was just a guy working on his own race car when I attracted his attention and he gave me the opportunity to drive a first-class racecar. He was always behind you 100 percent and everything was positive."
Oswald introduced Brown and crew chief Brian Corradi to Candies a few years ago and they became fast friends. They have been planning to work together on a nostalgia Funny Car. Brown became friends with Candies, who lives near Oswald in Houma, La., which is close to where Brown's wife, Billie Jo, is from and where Brown once lived.
"I met Paul through Mark when he'd come out to the racetrack," Brown said. "He was one of those types of people who people gravitate toward. He is what this sport was built on."
While nothing compares to the loss of a loved one, the Matco Tools team's race ended after the first round of Sunday's championship eliminations of the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver.
Brown, who qualified 12th, lost in the first round to series points leader Shawn Langdon. Langdon's time was 3.921 seconds at 310.34mph to Brown's 3.974 (310.34). Brown's effort was good enough to win three other first-round races.
"It's just how we all lined up. It's been the luck of the draw, but it's the way it goes," said Brown, who held on to fifth place in the series standings with two titles heading next week to Sonoma, Calif., where he is the defending champ.
"We've still just got to be pumped up and excited to go to Sonoma. We accomplished a lot here as a team, our car worked right, and we almost got there. The good part is, Brian and Mark and all the boys did what they wanted to do. It just wasn't enough that round."