The three-time world champion ranks fourth all-time among Top Fuel drivers with 50 victories, just two behind third-place Joe Amato. He’s won a race every year since moving from Pro Stock Motorcycle, where he won 16 times.
Brown has never finished below seventh in the championship standings, but Bristol is one of two tracks on the NHRA tour where he’s yet to win. The other is Richmond, which just returned to the NHRA schedule last year after a nine-year hiatus.
Brown is coming off a run to the semifinals at Topeka, where he squared off for the third straight race with red-hot Steve Torrence, who is on a five-race winning streak. Brown smoked the tires early, giving the win to Torrence.
Q: Bristol is one of the two tracks on the NHRA tour where you haven’t won. You often hear the comparisons with Denver and the altitude at both tracks. What makes Bristol so tough?
A: “Bristol is a race track where I’ve been so close, but I’ve never brought it home. I would love to go out there and get the win. With Bristol, it’s not just the elevation. When we qualify there, it’s during the evening and then when we race during the day. The track goes from really good to really hot and slick. You get the extremes of racing more than other tracks.”
Q: You’re a three-time world champion. When you’ve had a stretch like the last year and a half, does a driver even as successful as yourself struggle with confidence?
A: “We won four races in 2017, but struggled that year season also. We were trying to find the right parts and pieces, but we’ve been doing a lot of growing and learning, and now it feels good to be back to form. We qualified second the last race. We went to the semifinals and we have a couple of runner-ups. We’ve been racing well. Everything is finally coming together what we’ve been working on last year. We’re coming back stronger than ever.”
Q: Despite not winning there, you’ve always talked about how much you enjoy Bristol. Why is that?
A: “Bristol is one of my favorite race tracks. You’re driving the dragster down the track cut out between the mountains, it really is Thunder Valley. I’d like to have that trophy because it is one of those places where every driver wants to win. When you race there, you look up at those grandstands, you see all the history with the legends who have won there like Dale Pulde, Don Schumacher and Mark Oswald. There are all these elite drivers’ names over the grandstands. You’re like, ‘I want to be a part of that.’ It’s such a special place for sure.”
Q: Didn’t your first Bristol experience actually come on the bikes?
A: “Yes, I got runner-up then too. (laughs) It was the all-star race (the Winston Showdown) where they raced the Funny Cars against the dragsters. I had the Pro Stock Motorcycle out there.”
Q: You’ve not only gone through the major changes with your team, but the Top Fuel division has experienced major changes with some drivers walking away and new drivers coming in. How has that made the racing different?
A: “It’s stepped the class up with the fresh blood and also with some of the veterans like Scott Palmer. Terry McMillen has gone from part-time to full-time to a championship contender. Clay Millican is over here now with a top-tier car and he’s happy. That has been awesome. At the last race, we had 21 cars trying to qualify (for 16 spots) and that was special.”
Q: You've got 50 Top Fuel wins. You’re a three-time World Champion. What is the one accomplishment that makes you most proud?
A: “I think turning professional and racing period. For me, the dream was always to be out here. Everything else has gravy on it, the world championships and all that. When I worked with David Schultz on motorcycles and with (former Philadelphia Eagles player and bike owner) Troy Vincent in 1997, that was a big deal for me. When we won our first Pro Stock Motorcycle race, that stands out to me. When I first came to Top Fuel, my first win in both categories, when you get that first trophy, you’re like, ‘I’m here. I’m really here.’”