NHRA Top Fuel Champ Turned Black Belt Antron Brown Is a True 'Karate Kid'

antron brown nhra top fuel
Top Fuel Champ Antron Brown is NHRA's 'Karate Kid'ABMotorsports
  • Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown has earned his black belt—accomplishing that after less than 2 ½ years of studying Tae Kwon Do.

  • These days, Brown goes to the dojo for several hours, three to four nights per week, after putting in full days at his race shop.

  • Tae Kwon Do has also made a significant impact on Brown’s concentration and mental toughness, he says.

Even though it rarely happens, but going forward, if fellow NHRA Top Fuel drivers get incensed at Antron Brown on a dragstrip, heed these words of warning: tread lightly … because you are dealing with a black belt!

The 47-year-old Brown, a three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion (2012, 2015 and 2016), is obviously very tough on the dragstrip. But he’s also tough away from the track, having recently won several Indiana Tae Kwon Do state championships in Creative Forms, XMA Forms, Forms and Creative Weapons categories, and finished second in the Combat and Sparring categories.


For an encore a few weeks later, Brown earned his black belt—accomplishing that after less than 2 ½ years of studying the ancient self-defense form.

“For me, I have that mindset, you always finish what you start and what you do in life,” Brown said. “I started doing Tae Kwon Do with my son, who wanted to do it with me.

“My son got about three-quarters of the way through, he earned a blue belt, but then he decided he wanted to go play soccer and learn guitar. But it was meaningful for me to keep doing it.”

Even with his busy 23-race national schedule that stretches from Seattle to New Hampshire, as well as his promotional and sponsor appearances and everything else he’s involved in, Brown was not about to give up on continuing his Tae Kwon Do studies.

He completely rearranged his day-to-day schedule so that whenever he’d be back home, he made sure he not only had time for lessons, but also daily training and workouts. He now goes to the dojo for several hours three to four nights per week, after putting in full days at his shop.

“I rescheduled my time at the shop, working and doing all the stuff that we do, I really sacrificed the time to do that,” Brown said. “It was crazy, but it was a lot of fun and it was totally worth it because I was doing something I’ve never done before. It’s making me do things that I’ve never done, like stretching and strengthening muscles that I never knew I had.”

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On the the track, Antron Brown enters the U.S. Nationals third in the Top Fuel standings.NHRA/Nartional Dragster

But there was one other element about Tae Kwon Do that, for anyone who knows Brown, doesn’t come as a surprise:

“I love competition and love to compete,” he said with a laugh. “So going in and going to competitions. Up until this past June, I’d only been to four competitions and can’t make them all because of all the weekends we race. I made a few in the off-season and a couple during the season, did all the tests to get my black belt. My testing was harder because I don’t go to that many competitions to rank up.”

Still, Brown makes the best use of his time when competing.

“I have almost a year now to earn my second-degree black belt,” he said. “I don’t know how far I’ll go, but the coolest part to me was getting to be a black belt and now, the rest is icing on the cake.

“It’s just a matter of learning, growing and using it to stay in physical shape for me to race. I’ve got a lot more leg power, kicking power, more quickness response and more hand-to-eye coordination for sparring doing combat.”

Tae Kwon Do has also made a significant impact on Brown’s concentration and mental toughness. He already was one of the toughest guys to beat on a dragstrip, but Tae Kwon Do has made him even more difficult to beat.

In fact, he’s coming off a big win this past weekend at Brainerd, Minn., and is now getting ready for the biggest drag race of the year—next weekend’s U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis, just a short burnout from where Brown and his family live.

“On the mental side, when you do martial arts, it’s kind of like drag racing or any sport you do,” Brown said. “You really need to blank your mind out and focus on everything you’re doing at that given moment, and that’s what I love about doing Tae Kwon Do.

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Antron Brown keeps fit as he pursues his racing career and time in the martial arts studio.Toyota

“It’s like when I go there, I have to shut everything off that’s going on, everything else in my mind that’s going on like what’s going on at the race shop, with the race team and everything that’s going on around me to really just focus on that (Tae Kwon Do).

“So, it gives me a peace of mind to go to a whole ‘nother realm to focus. And then when I’m able to go back to racing, I’ve learned to focus on where I’m at at that given time.”

Tae Kwon Do also helped Brown cope with the challenges of forming and the first year of operation of his own Top Fuel team, amicably breaking away from longtime boss Don Schumacher prior to the 2022 season.

“Last year with team ownership, what I struggled with was turning my mind off, even when I was racing,” Brown said. “I was always thinking about this and that, thinking about things I shouldn’t be thinking about at the time of what you’re doing (like things on his to-do list as an owner while he’s trying to win a round or race).

“When I started Tae Kwon Do, it started putting me in that mindset where I got more at ease and just really started focusing on where I was at now, or where I’m going to be or not what’s happening or what happened, but focus on ‘the now.’”

Even though his hands and feet make him a dangerous bad ass, he’s also the target of some good-natured teasing about his self-defense prowess.

“They always make suggestions and crack jokes and call me the Karate Kid,” Brown laughed.

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on X (formerly Twitter) at @JerryBonkowski