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Riding off to a fast start toward history

Antron Brown, who seeks to become the NHRA's first African-American champ, sets a Gainesville record.

Antron Brown is young and successful.

The 25-year old NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle rider finished fourth in the 2000 point standings and third the year before, has seven wins and is 7-1 in finals.

During Friday's first round of qualifying at Gatornationals, Brown clocked a quarter-mile time of 7.249 seconds, the day's best, with a top speed of 187.91 mph. Saturday afternoon, he finished in 7.208 to set a track record and qualify first for the first time.

But for all of his accomplishments, Brown, one of only a handful of African-American NHRA regulars, is often asked to talk about his race as much as he is his racing.

"That's what everybody wants to know about," Brown said. "I'm used to it."

And used to success.

In high school, Brown was the starting point guard on the basketball team and a two-way starter for the football team. While attending junior college in his native New Jersey, he was a standout sprinter and jumper.

When Brown was 11, he started racing motorcross, and that eventually led to an NHRA career.

Brown's cousin, the former Tommie Hendricks, married NFL defensive back Troy Vincent, and the couple frequented motorcross events Brown rode in. Eventually, Vincent, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, started a Pro Stock Motorcycle team. As one of his drivers, he picked Brown.

"I was just sitting in my college dorm when (Vincent) called me," Brown said.

Brown, whose father and uncle raced in the Sportsman category years earlier, welcomed the challenge.

He never feared he would fail.

"Racing has been in our family's blood forever," Brown said. "And I grew up in a competitive neighborhood. I love competing. I always compete at everything I do, and I want to succeed."

Brown says the NHRA, perceived by some as a good ol' boy association, welcomed him.

"They've been great," Brown said. "They never tugged me one way or pulled me in another. They were very accepting."

Brown went winless during his rookie season in 1998, but moved to third in the standings in his second year. Vincent began as a "hands-on" owner of a two-bike team. Brown is now the only rider and Vincent handed much of the decisionmaking to Brown, crew chief Mark Peiser and crew member Albert Brown, Antron's father.

Brown won three events in 2000. In September, he won the U.S. Nationals and Holley Pro Stock Dominator Duel the same weekend in Indianapolis to earn a $10,000 bonus.

"I think he's the best (driver) out here," Peiser said. "He's got great technical skills and energy. He's figured out what works best."

Brown had those skills Saturday.

"It was a sweet pass," Brown said. "It felt really good. We're getting ready for (today). We feel real good. I gave Troy a call (after the run) and gave him the good news on his voice mail."

Brown's goal is to win the points championship, if not this season then soon. He would become the first African-American driver in an NHRA pro category to do so.

"That wouldn't be bad at all," Brown said. "I want to be a part of history."