In advance of the Toyota Racing Dream Build Challenge project reveals later this month, we interviewed Antron Brown and Chuck Wade of Team Antron, which is building a custom drag-racing inspired Toyota Sequoia.
Brown is the only driver in NHRA history to have won in both Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle competition. Since 2008, Brown has taken 18 Top Fuel victories, and took six victories in the 2011 season alone, placing third in the points total in 2009 and 2011. His current career-best time is a 3.766 ET at 325.37 mph.
Wade's career spans more than 40 years as a driver, crew chief, mechanic, engineer, and machinist. He served as program director for Renault Jeep Sport, running Jeep's off-road racing program. For the past 16 years, he has worked for Toyota's motorsports program building specialty vehicles for racing and shows, and providing technical support to Toyota's grassroots motorsports efforts.
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Q:How did you first get interested in racing?
A: I grew up around drag racing. My dad and uncle were drag racing before I was born. When I was in high school, I'd join them at their races in New Jersey at Englishtown and Reading and Maple Grove in Pennsylvania. We'd race at those dragstrips all the time. At the age of 12, I rebuilt my first two-stroke dirtbike engine. My dad saw that I had some mechanical skills. At a really early age, I had my hand in race cars. My dad was in the Army, and was a tank and Humvee mechanic.
Q: When did professional motorsports competition first look like a career option?
A: My career started when I was 20 years old. I was in college. I started working for a professional motorcycle team for Troy Vincent. It was December 1997. I was finishing up my associate degree, and was about to go to a four-year college, and that's when I got into drag racing professionally.
Q: What are some of the similarities and differences between racing motorcycles and cars?
A: The mindset is the same. When I went from Pro-Stock Motorcycles to Top Fuel, I didn't have to learn how to race all over again -- I just had to learn how to drive the car. You have to finesse both of them. On the bikes, you use more physical strength, whereas in the car, I'm finessing things more with my hands. The thing with reaction times is, either you've got it, or you don't. If you go into another sport, like football, they're either fast, or they're not fast. It's not something you can really teach.
Q: We heard that you went to the Olympic trials in the 100-meter event?
A: (Laughs) That's kind of a myth that still gets perpetuated. When I was in college, I was quick enough to qualify for the Olympic trials, but I decided not to pursue it further.
Q: What personal or professional goals do you hope to accomplish within the next few years?
A: My main goal is to win the world championship. We've been breaking a lot of NHRA records, we won the U.S. Nationals, and won the most races in a year for a Top Fuel team. The last thing we want to accomplish as a team is to win the championship. We've been close four times to winning. We tasted it, trust me!
Q: Some people thought the Sequoia was an unusual choice for this project. Why did you choose it?
A: I chose a vehicle I drive every day. I drive a Sequoia every day at home. I thought "You know what would be cool? What if we tricked one of these out like a pro-street drag car." We've tubbed it out, and we're going to put the three seats in back for the kids. It's going to be the fastest grocery-getter going down the street. We're calling it the "Dragquoia." It's going to be pretty cool.
Chuck Wade, Team Antron Project Build Leader
Q: Could you share a little bit about your approach to building the Dragquoia?
A: For anything at SEMA, if it isn't a "wow," it's invisible. Historically, what we've done for SEMA vehicles is pull out all the stops. We want to make it come across like it was built like a Toyota, but built like an outrageous Toyota.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge of this project build?
A: The timeframe was a challenge. Normally, we'd have plenty of time to build the vehicle, but the deadline for this build is a whole month before SEMA. The tight schedule has been our single biggest challenge.
Q: What do you feel you and your team bring to the table for this project build?
A: I started building cars in the late '60s. I don't know how many cars I've built. It's probably well over 100. Every year I've put in a full season of racing, I've won a championship. I've got a lot of pride in what we do. We want this car to show off what Antron and Toyota can do together. I have to acknowledge the team I've been working with: Marty Schwerter, Rich Garver, and Sam Puleri. Marty is a mechanic and machinist; Sam does design and fabrication; and Rich is Toyota master technician and fabricator. They've been doing most of the heavy lifting on this project. I just sign the checks!