"He's the happiest person I've ever known."
"You can't afford to get ahead of yourself in this sport. Take a look at what's happened in the past in not only the bikes but in every class when a team lets its guard down when leading the points. Just when you think you're out front to stay, you wind up getting a big surprise."
-- Antron Brown
That's how three-time POWERade Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Angelle Sampey describes U.S. Army/Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown. In a sport where long faces abound and hissy fits are an almost constant occurrence within the hurly-burly of professional competition, Sampey's words might seem a little out of place.
But anyone who has spent even a fraction of a moment interacting with Brown would corroborate Sampey's observation. After debuting in the NHRA's Pro Stock Motorcycle class in 1998 (with a DNQ in Gainesville), Brown has gained an enormous following of fans, both in the grandstands and in the bike pits, thanks to his positive personality and genuine cordiality.
And now, he finds himself on the brink of capturing the biggest prize of his career -- the 2006 POWERade title -- with only two races remaining on the schedule.
The native of Chesterfield, N.J., who turned 30, in March holds a 27-point lead over defending two-time category champion Andrew Hines and a 64-point cushion over his teammate and cousin-in-law, Sampey. Having already won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in 2000, the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle that same year, and finishing a career-best second in the championship points in 2001, Brown now looks at adding a PSM crown to his impressive racing résumé. But he knows he's not there yet.
"You can't afford to get ahead of yourself in this sport," said Brown, who will be off to the Strip in Las Vegas next week for the AC Delco Nationals. "Take a look at what's happened in the past in not only the bikes but in every class when a team lets its guard down when leading the points. Just when you think you're out front to stay, you wind up getting a big surprise.
"My U.S. Army team isn't about to let all of our hard work all season go down the drain by being overconfident. The other racers we're trying to stay ahead of are too good to take for granted."
Brown has racked up a title-winning track record in '06 -- not measured strictly by national event victories -- through consistent results. His two national event wins in Atlanta (where he qualified No. 1) and Brainerd have highlighted his '06 performance and his 26-11 round record over the previous 13 races are an indication of his solid program. His six foul starts this year are the only real blemishes on his '06 report card that reflects a mere two first-round losses.
Those are the kinds of stats that any racer would be happy with, but when you're Antron Brown, happiness is a way of life rather than the product of success at the track.
"Antron is a great inspiration for me," adds Sampey. "It's hard to be down or depressed when you're around him. He's the real deal."
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.