Antron Brown walked out of 2012 with a trophy signifying his first NHRA championship and became the first black driver to win a major U.S. auto title.

His next time out, the first drag race of the 2013 season, Brown was lucky to walk away from the Pomona, Calif., drag strip at all.

As Brown’s car was crossing the finish line in the second round of the Winternationals, it blew up because of an engine malfunction, and the fiery vehicle spun end-over-end into a wall. Brown walked away from the crash with only bumps and bruises.

Because of a safety feature known as a canopy, Brown’s car had an enclosed cockpit, which he thinks saved him from serious injury that day. The canopy, which is an optional feature, adds weight to the car. But to Brown, employing it is a no-brainer.

“If you ever get in a crash,” he said, “you don’t want to be in a convertible, do you?”

His season got off to a shaky start, but Brown looks forward to continuing his recent success this weekend at Brainerd International Raceway, where the 32nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals will take place Thursday to Sunday.

Brown has five career victories at BIR, four of which came during his days racing in the Pro Stock Motorcycle division. Last year in Top Fuel, he fell just short of first place, getting edged out by Morgan Lucas in the championship round.

When he’s not racing, Brown resides in Indianapolis with his family. But his familiarity with BIR makes this weekend’s action much like a homecoming, he said.

Brown is in fourth place in the overall Top Fuel standings, and with the Countdown to the Championship less than a month away, a repeat of last year’s title is well within his reach.

“You don’t know what it takes to get it done until you get it done,” said Brown, who had six victories in 2012. “I think that’s our edge this year.”

Brown concedes that getting back into a car after a crash can make a driver spend extra time making sure things are running as they should. But he didn’t let the frightening experience in Pomona slow him down. After all, Brown — who won two races during the two months that followed the crash — has grown up with a fascination for speed.

His father was in the military, and his mother worked for the post office. Brown, like his uncle and father before him, enjoyed racing “on a budget” for fun. Now, the 37-year-old father of three can hardly believe his former hobby is now his profession.

Following in his grandfather and father’s footsteps, Brown’s 9-year-old son, Anson, participates in Jr. Dragster racing. Brown hopes that once his own racing days are over, he’ll manage a team and be in a position to help aspiring racers.

“I’d like to be the one who gives new talent a chance to fulfill their dream,” Brown said. “I know they won’t take it for granted.”