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Tue, 15 May 2012, 12:09 PM

Living His Dream
By Todd Veney
Photo copyright 2012 Carl Oberman

Bryan Brown
Like a lot of racers' kids, Top Alcohol Funny Car driver Bryan Brown grew up dreaming of the day he'd be behind the wheel.

"I can't imagine anyone who was around this stuff who wouldn't want to," said Brown, 33, son of veteran racer Burl Brown. "I've wanted to drive my whole life. I was probably in kindergarten when my dad first got a Funny Car. They're all I've ever worked on and all I've ever wanted to race."

Two years ago, at what was already going to be his last race anyway, Burl crashed off the end of the track during qualifying for the national event at Chicago. "The chutes didn't come out, and it was pretty bad," Brown said. "He hit the net going 95 or 100 mph and ripped the whole front end off the car. People thought I started driving because he didn't want to anymore after that deal, but this was the plan all along."

All it did was delay Brown's debut a few months (and, of course, cost a ton money). After the team bought a ProStart car from fellow Texan Tom Carter, who had purchased it from Chuck Cheeseman when Cheeseman went Pro Mod racing, Brown finally got his chance.

"I'd been bugging my dad to let me drive since I was about 15, maybe longer, but when it happened, it just happened," said Brown, who works for his dad's company building steel stairs and railings for apartment complexes and commercial buildings. "It wasn't some big conversation. He just said that '10 was going to be his last year, and I wasn't going to argue."

Brown was more prepared than most rookies - and not just because he'd always worked on his dad's cars. Instead of entering races before he had accumulated much seat time, he eased into it, making dozens of test runs over the span of a year and a half.

"My dad had been letting me drive in testing since '08," said Brown, who runs the car out of Gainesville, Texas, literally right across the street from builder Joe Monden's chassis shop and not far from the Oklahoma state line. "I probably did 20 burnouts and launches before we ever started my actual licensing. That still doesn't prepare you for what happens at the top of low gear, but I'm glad we didn't just go straight to it. Then I probably tested four or five times before we ever went to my first race."

There was plenty to learn. "It's a lot harder than you'd think - at least a lot harder than I thought it was going to be," Brown said. "For years, if my dad ever short-shifted or didn't go straight or cut a bad light or anything, I'd be on him. Then you actually do it, and you find out that there's a whole lot going on in there. When I got out of the car after the first run I ever made, I told my dad, 'Sorry for anything I ever said.' It's a lot faster than I thought it would be; it took probably 10 launches before my brain could realize what was going on. I still remember my first run. I went about 100 feet and thought I was at the end of the track - and I'd already been driving a Top Dragster that was fairly quick. Then you start racing people, and you're worried about getting the rpm just right on the starting line, hitting the shift points, not burning anybody down. It's easy to overthink things, and it's a whole different deal when someone's in the other lane."

Brown, who made his 2012 debut at the NHRA Spring Nationals in Houston, went to the quarter-finals, where he had gone a couple rounds last year. He ran three events at the tail end of 2010 and a full slate last year. The plan is the same for this season. Burl has 20-some years of experience, and the team's engine builder and tuner, Dennis Piranio, is a former national event champion in Top Alcohol Funny Car, so hopes are high.

"It's crazy to try to do this, but we're doing it," said Brown, who does the bottom end between rounds and helps his dad with the clutch. "I don't know what I'd want to do next - I'm already living out the only dream I ever had. I have no intention of running Top Fuel - that's something a regular person just can't do. It's hard enough to win in Alcohol Funny Car, but at least here there's a chance."

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