POMONA, Calif. – Antron Brown became the first black champion in any NHRA pro series when he won the Top Fuel title on Sunday at the season-ending event.
Brown suffered minor burns to his hands when his engine popped in an opening-round loss during eliminations, then had to wait to celebrate his victory until the final, when teammate Tony Schumacher lost in a photo finish to Brandon Bernstein.
"I feel so blessed to be in this moment right now and this is a big huge moment," Brown said. "I am just glad we could bring it home for Don Schumacher Racing. To win the world championship the way the competition has been this year in Top Fuel and to run and compete how we've been doing all season long is just phenomenal. We all switched the lead back and forth a bunch of times. Is this really happening?"
Brown led Schumacher, a seven-time champion, by 67 points at the start of Sunday's eliminations. It looked as if Schumacher might take the title until he lost the final to Bernstein by eighth-thousandths of a second.
When the win light went on in Bernstein's lane, Brown was mobbed by his teammates, family and friends in a huge celebration at the starting line.
"If I can be an inspiration for any of the kids out there who have dreams, any Americans, that's all I want," said Brown, who earned six victories in 11 final rounds and was top qualifier three times en route to his title.
The NHRA has long been one of the most diverse series in motorsports. Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to earn a license from NHRA to drive a Top Fuel dragster and won three championships, and brothers Cruz and Tony Pedregon, who are of Hispanic descent, both won Funny Car championships.
Earlier this season, Erica Enders became the first woman to win a Pro Stock event, beating four-time champion Greg Anderson in the finals at Route 66 Raceway.
Also Sunday, Jack Beckman claimed the Funny Car world championship when he edged teammate Ron Capps by two points in one of the closest points margins in the history of the category.
Top qualifier Capps lost a close semifinal round to rookie Courtney Force. Beckman was crowned champion before his semifinal against eventual race winner Cruz Pedregon.
Beckman's title gave team owner Don Schumacher both nitro trophies, duplicating his effort from 2005 when his son Tony won Top Fuel and Gary Scelzi took the Funny Car crown.
Beckman, a cancer survivor, came on during the Countdown playoffs and moved into contention with a win at St. Louis. He took the points lead at the event in Reading, Pa. when he set a national performance record and was the No. 1 qualifier.
The major historian of the sport and former drag racing school driving instructor was thrilled with the title.
"You think about this, and you dream about this," said Beckman, a cancer survivor. "It's going to take me a while to wrap my head around this."
Pedregon, Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) joined Bernstein as race winners at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.