Antron Brown is going from a track near Atlanta where he has won five NHRA titles to Heartland Park Topeka this weekend where he's never been to the winner's circle. The Topeka track, which will host the NHRA Kansas Nationals beginning Friday, is one of only four tracks on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series where the reigning Top Fuel world champion has never won. His Matco Tools team has run well there with three No. 1 qualifying positions including last year's.
"It's one of those deals in life when you want something so bad but it never seems you can get it," said Brown, who won Saturday's Atlanta title for one of his two wins this year.
He knows he will feel added pressure once he heads toward the track on Gary Ormsby Drive.
The way to Heartland Park is paved with memories of Gary Ormsby, the 1989 NHRA Top Fuel champion who won 14 titles before he succumbed to cancer in 1991 at age 49.
"The road coming in is named after one of my heroes, Gary Ormsby. We go right down Gary Ormsby Drive to go to Heartland Park, and that's one of the things that really stands out to me when we go there," said Brown.
"Gary Ormsby was one of my true mentors in the sport," the 37-year-old Brown added. "I remember him driving the Castrol Top Fuel Dragster. He was very innovative. He didn't just bring out a dragster with an enclosed canopy like we use at DSR, but he brought a fully streamlined car that covered the engine and everything that made it so aerodynamic. But he had to take it off his car because it weighed too much."
Brown was 15 when Ormsby died and never had the opportunity to discuss racing as fellow drivers. Nonetheless, Ormsby, a native of Northern California, made a lasting impression.
"I got to see him at races when I was a little kid. I never met him or knew him other than as a fan getting his autograph. He never knew who I was.
"He was just a cool, soft-spoken, laid-back guy, yet he still was a serious racer. He was well respected and a genuine, genuine nice guy, but he was a hard-core racer. That's something I've always tried to be; I'm very approachable, very nice, but you don't want to line up against me on the starting line."
Brown arrives at Topeka with momentum after winning his second title of the season with a win last Saturday in the rain-delayed Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. The Matco team led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald pulled to within five points of leader and DSR teammate Tony Schumacher.
Like Brown, Ormsby never won a Topeka title, so Brown wants to take Ormsby's memory with him to the winner's circle. He promises to approach Topeka differently this year.
"If you settle down, focus, relax and quit worrying about it, it comes to you. That's the approach I'm going to take this weekend at Topeka. I'm going out there and do what we do. It's just an inspirational race for me and would mean so much if we could bring home that trophy.
"Topeka is a track that we've always run well at, and has been one that we've wanted to win so bad. It's just a special place. I have to get passed my emotions when I go there just so I can do what I normally do and because it means so much to me to race there."