NHRA Champ Antron Brown Is Making a Difference; Just Ask Justin Ashley

auto sep 04 dodge power brokers nhra us nationals
Antron Brown Gives Potential NHRA Rivals a BoostIcon Sportswire - Getty Images
  • Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown has been quietly lending his decades of professional racing experience to help boost others who want to make it in racing.

  • This year, Brown has turned that informal mentorship into a driver development program he calls Accelerate.

  • Through the program, Brown hopes to continue mentoring drivers from any and all motorsports disciplines on how to make their mark—on and off the racetrack.

When Antron Brown announced in August that he was helping three-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Angelle Sampey—through his Accelerate driver development program—carve a path from bikes to eventually the NHRA Top Fuel class, it raised more than a few eyebrows.


It shouldn't have.

Brown has been quietly lending his decades of professional racing experience to help boost others who want to make it in racing. As Brown—or just about anyone who's "made it" in pro racing—well tell you, it's often not what you know, but who you know.

And Brown, a three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion who has also won in Pro Stock Motorcycle, is happy to be that "who you know."

auto jul 30 denso nhra sonoma nationals
Justin Ashley points to NHRA Top Fuel rival Antron Brown as a big influence in his career.Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

Just ask current Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley. The 28-year-old Ashley is a 13-time winner in Top Fuel and the sport's next superstar, and he's gotten plenty of advice and tips from Brown along his journey to the top of the Top Fuel standings.

"I've known Antron for a long time, really since around 2008, 2009," Ashley told Autoweek. "And, you know, the first time he really started working with me and giving me advice was probably around 2016 or so when I first started racing and doing dragster bracket racing. I even ended up racing an alcohol dragster and licensing in Anton's car in Top Fuel in 2017.

"When I first licensed in his car, that's when he and I really started to develop an even better relationship. And he started to really work with me—one on one—during that licensing process, and then obviously, throughout the entirety of my career so far.

"And we're still working together on stuff, honestly. I'm still asking him for advice or asking him about certain things when I feel certain things in the race car or what he would do in certain situations."

Who knew that one day Ashley would be taking some of what Brown has taught him and be working his tail off to beat his mentor on the racetrack.

"I can't tell you how important it is for me to have him as somebody that I can lean on," Ashley said. "The interesting part is, with his Accelerate program, a lot of it is about driving and how to learn how to become a better driver. But what really makes it special is what he does off the track, too, on the marketing side and working with the sponsors and PR and social and media—what really makes a complete driver today. He's worked with me on all that stuff, too."

Brown hopes to use his Accelerate program to help racers—and not just NHRA racers, he points out—get to a next level or improve their game on whatever level they happen to be competing in. For Sampey, it's helping her move from motorcycle champion into a new discipline for her in dragsters.

As for Ashley, he comes from a racing family and whose father Mike was one of the all-time great NHRA Pro Modified drivers and a multi-time national event winner in NHRA and IHRA competition. Without connections or an experienced driver to tap for advice, other professional racing wannabes may not be able to attract that sponsorship deal or get that meeting with a team owner to help them get to the next level.

That's where Brown comes in.

'I've been helping out kids come up through junior dragster ranks for years now and sponsoring races, sponsoring programs, talking to the kids about how to acquire sponsorship for their cars, and teach them at an early age how to over-deliver," Brown said. "I actually talk and mentor a lot of other drivers from all different forms of motorsports for Toyota.

"I've done stuff with (NASCAR driver) Bubba Wallace in the past and I've done stuff with a whole bunch of other people in the past. I talk to them and acknowledge them, help them, and just try to make them create that right attitude and a mindset."

Brown, 47, emphasized that his mentorship is about so much more than just on-track tips and preparation advice. That's the easy part.

"I never had to worry about how to compete, but what I had to learn was the business side of it. (Former NFL great and past NHRA team owner) Troy Vincent inspired me a long time ago. He goes, 'Hey, A.B., you don't just need to be great on the racetrack, you have to figure out how to be great off the racetrack."

Brown was also inspired by businessman David Steward, founder and chairman of Worldwide Technology.

"He opened my mind a long time ago when I started this race team," Brown said. "He said, 'When you have the race team, great. But what about everybody that's underneath you? How do you want to help them motivate? How are you going to bring them up?'

"And that's where this whole Accelerate program came into my mind on how do we encourage other people to be the best version of themselves. That's why I wanted to form this Accelerate program to do these things, to bridge the gaps and to give people pathways to get to be who they want to be and where they want to be."

Brown adds that there's a simple reason he's not using his AB Motorsports moniker in the Accelerate program, even though that's not to say that one day he hopes to have drivers from his program—Sampey for one—lining up next to him as a teammate.

"We're not just going to be into one niche area," Brown said. "We're going to spread and diversify our portfolio to help out and bridge the gaps and make motorsports better in general."