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A historic first for top-fuel champion Antron Brown

Leaning on the big points lead he took into a race day that ended prematurely, he becomes the first African American to win a major motor racing title.

November 11, 2012|By Lance Pugmire
  • Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown performs a burnout during eliminations at the Auto Club NHRA auto race finals on Sunday.
Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown performs a burnout during eliminations… (Marc Gewertz / Associated…)

NHRA top-fuel driver Antron Brown became the first African American to win a major motor racing title Sunday, leaning on the big points lead he took into a race day that ended prematurely.

Brown was beaten in the first round of Sunday eliminations at the Auto Club Finals in Pomona, then waited more than six hours before seven-time top-fuel champion Tony Schumacher's furious rally was extinguished by Brandon Bernstein in the final.

It was Bernstein's first win of the season, and it left Schumacher seven points shy of Brown — who won five top-fuel events this year.

Bernstein beat Schumacher off the line, completing the run in 3.762 seconds at 320.8 mph.

"It was like being that kid in elementary school waiting through those 30-hour days in class," Brown said. "I couldn't do anything about it."

The funny car season title also ended dramatically, with Norco's Jack Beckman winning the season points title by two points over Ron Capps when both were defeated in semifinal races.

Cruz Pedregon won the funny car final over rookie Courtney Force.

Beckman spoke of "mixed emotions" in seeing Force give him the title by edging his teammate Capps by .022 of a second in one of the semifinals.

Beckman helped teach Force how to race six years ago. He was seated in his car behind the starting line Sunday when she won.

"You think and dream about it," Beckman said. "All those guys in [Capps' sponsor] Napa shirts are my friends. When I saw a head drop on a shoulder over there, I knew we just won it."

Rather than risk a 10-point penalty for an oil leak on his own semifinal run, Beckman cruised to a loss against Pedregon.

A military veteran and lymphoma survivor, Beckman basked in his remarkable ride on Veterans Day weekend, eight years after the cancer diagnosis and eight rounds of chemotherapy.

Earlier this season, Beckman's and Capps' team owner, Don Schumacher, saw Capps' crew chief quit. Schumacher opted to switch the more experienced chief from Beckman to Capps and his more lucrative sponsor.

Beckman had high praise for his crew chief, Todd Smith, and nine-member crew.

"It wasn't my decision to switch teams," Beckman said. "I got texts when it happened that I got the short end of the stick. Todd picked things up even more than I thought he could."

Brown reflected on the social impact of his accomplishment.

"If I can be an inspiration to not settle for things you're told you can't achieve … it's not out of reach," he said. "That's what it's all about."

Brown started the day with a comfortable — if not ironclad — 67-point lead over Tony Schumacher, poised to clinch the championship if he could win his first two races.

But Brown's dragster suffered a ruptured fuel line and slowed about halfway down the 1,000-foot track, a small fire flaming at the rear of his car, burning his hands as Spencer Massey coasted to the upset.

Schumacher rallied again after overcoming previous final-day deficits of 68 and 42 points to win championships.

He was behind J.R. Todd off the starting line in the first round but won 3.766 seconds to 3.799, then beat Bob Vandergriff by inches in the semifinals.

Also Sunday, Andrew Hines defeated season points winner Eddie Krawiec in the pro stock motorcycle final, and Allen Johnson beat Vincent Nobile in the pro stock final.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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