POMONA, Calif. -- Top Fuel driver Antron Brown started Sunday with a losing effort and burned hands. He ended the day as the NHRA Top Fuel champion, the first African-American driver in history to win a major auto racing title.
Brown had to stand and watch the final round with bandages on his hands, knowing his Don Schumacher Racing teammate, seven-time champion Tony Schumacher, would take the title from him if he won the match up with Brandon Bernstein in the Auto Club Finals.
But Bernstein won the final by inches on a holeshot (slower elapsed time but better reaction time at the start) to deny Schumacher and make Brown the champion. Bernstein reached the finish line in 3.76 seconds at 320 miles per hour, edging Schumacher's 3.75 elapsed time at 325 mph.
"You don't wish nothing bad on anybody," Brown said. "Tony has been my biggest supporter since Day 1. He has helped me leaps and bounds along the way. Tony's a class act. I'm just beside myself. I feel so blessed to be in this moment."
Schumacher started the day 70 points behind Brown, but almost pulled off the comeback.
"It's a terrible way to lose, but there's no good way to lose," Schumacher said. "They gave me a great car that got to the end, but the win light didn't come on. I'm sure Antron is back there celebrating. He will be a great champion."
Brown suffered minor burns on his hands when the engine on his dragster caught fire in a first-round loss Sunday at the Auto Club Finals.
"It's just a little first-degree burns on my hands," Brown said after leaving the track care center. "It was tough outing. We were just going for it. I don't know what went wrong with the car yet, just a rough mishap."