If you’re an automobile enthusiast, you’re probably familiar with Top Gear. It started out as an automobile program in 1977 on BBC in the United Kingdom. Its original run was from 1977 to 2001, before it was relaunched in 2002 and became a worldwide success with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May as the show’s primary hosts. The program features many segments such as car reviews, challenges, races, power laps, and the famous “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car.” With its global reach, BBC ventured to the U.S.A in 2010 with Top Gear USA and eventually ended its run in June of 2016. In March of this year, it was announced that Top Gear would premiere its newest TV show on BBC America called Top Gear America. Fans of the Top Gear series were elated to find out that the beloved show would continue on in the States, and in particular, NHRA fans were excited that one of their own would be a host of the new show. Actor, Bill Fichtner; Journalist and television present, Tom Ford; and three-time Top Fuel world champion, Antron Brown will be the hosts of the upcoming tv show. We caught up with Antron Brown at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals this weekend to find out more about his experience on Top Gear America.
RPMHD: How did to opportunity to host Top Gear America come about?
Antron Brown: Top Gear has been in the making for a little bit. I got a call from their casting director and they wanted me to come in for a [chemistry] test. It was at the very last set of it, where they went through hundreds of different people. I got there and Bill Fichtner, Tom Ford, and myself just hit it off. It’s a show where you’ve gotta have a lot of chemistry and we hit it off right at the bat; we all love cars and have a passion for them. It wasn’t one [of us] that just stuck out from the rest; we all have different concepts and we love different aspects of every automobile and we pick out very unique things in all of them. That’s what makes it so special. So, with that being said, once we got out of the chemistry test, I got a phone call about a week and a half later saying ‘Hey, I think that you got the job.’ I got a call a week after that where I did get the job. It started from there and we started rolling like gangbusters. It’s been one of the most fun experiences I’ve done in my life where I got to drive cars I wouldn’t normally get to drive or wouldn’t even buy because it’s off my radar. I’m a true American muscle car guy and we got to [drive] a lot of those but we also got to test a lot of the exotic and foreign cars. Man, I’ll tell you what, those cars are very unique and they’re just a different form and aspect that i’ve always admired it was just never my cup of tea. It really opened my eyes to the engineering and technology. I was always fascinated with automakers like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes, and Maserati who’ve got some of that [Formula 1] technology. You get to see where they’re at and where they’re headed especially with all the V6s and twin-turbos that’s in almost every midsize SUV and car now. Even the Ford Raptor, their new [truck] is a V6 with a twin-turbo also; it’s really hitting the market. The coolest part with drag racing is that we’ve been doing this for the last twenty to thirty years and it’s just now hitting the auto world.
RPMHD: Did being cast as one of the hosts surprise you?
AB: It caught me off-guard when they called and asked me about doing it. The thing about it is that you’ve gotta go through a whole long process to make it happen. It’s not like saying ‘Oh, you got the job,’ it was nothing like that. So, once I got there, showed up and saw the people that were trying out for this deal I was like ‘Wow, well at least I can use this for the experience.’ Then lo and behold I got the job and that right there was shocking to me. But yet, it was a true blessing because Top Gear, I was a fan of the show for a lot of years. Watching them from the Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond days and now Matt LeBlanc. Even from Rutledge [Wood] to Tanner [Foust] and Adam [Ferrara], who did Top Gear USA. Our show now is straight from BBC World Live and we’ve got The Stig in it, but it’s got our original twist on it and that’s the cool part. We’re looking up the American culture and know where the automobile has come from in our country and what it means to us and how we view it, with a little British charm from Tom Ford who’s actually a senior editor in Top Gear, the magazine.
RPMHD: How different is it, being on TV for NHRA and then being on a show like Top Gear America?
AB: The difference is I take my competitive nature right onto the screens. I love what I do [at the track] and have a passion [for it.] I race hard and go out and compete at a high level, that’s what I do. On the [show] I’m doing the same thing but people get to see the laid-back side of AB. The side that my family and all my friends know, not what you see on TV at the racetrack. You get to see who I am as a person and you get to see my true character on how I really love all shapes and forms of vehicles from four wheels to two wheels.
RPMHD: How do you balance your personal life, your career, and the show at the same time?
AB: It’s always a tough and tight balance; I just focus on one day at a time. I never look way far in the future, you can’t doing that show. I was literally going to the racetrack to then flying off to go film, then from filming going to the racetrack and then from here to there, and being on the road. I lived out of suitcase for nearly two and a half months. Thing thing about it was, it’s one of those experiences that I’ve learned and grown from it. Hopefully this next year, if we get a season two, it won’t be that hard because we’ll start filming a lot earlier in December and January where we have all the off months. So, that will take into play and then we’ll film the rest going into the [NHRA] season like we did this year where it goes into February and March and then we’ll wrap up in April.
RPMHD: Since you get the opportunity to drive all of these amazing vehicles, were there any you decided to buy?
AB: The thing about it is, you get a lot of respect for all the automobiles out there. Some are great bang for the buck and other ones are like a Gucci purse where you’re just paying for the name. They have great performance but there are other automobiles that have the same performance for half or a third of the sticker price. With that being said and me growing up around the racing world, I’ve always been keen on performance and styling so I can separate the price tag from what it really does and there’s a lot of automobiles that really impress me and there’s some that disappoint me. When we did the show, that was the coolest part, we get to put them through the true test. Not a Sunday drive like you pick a car up and go from the dealership. They say ‘Hey, man, it goes off road,’ well I took it off road. I took it out there and went balls to the wall and I hit the pedal down to the floor and really got the feel for what it can really handle. You’ve got to remember, I’m a Top Fuel driver, I drive at over three-hundred-and-thirty miles an hour every weekend, Friday through Sunday. That’s my job to take things and I bring it back in pieces and have the guys rebuild it and put it back together. So when I jump in these automobiles I’m gonna put it through the true test.
RPMHD: Do you feel any pressure being the face of such a huge TV show?
AB: By being on camera here in the racing world and me doing other little skits and doing other cameos on other TV shows like Idris Elba: No Limits, Storage Wars, and other TV shows I’ve been on in the past, I just do me. That’s why a lot of people always have respect and people smile and laugh with me because they know I’m gonna be me twenty-four-seven. I don’t have to amp up nothing or try to do this or do that, I just do me and have fun with it. Hopefully it resonates that way with on TV and comes across.
You can catch Top Gear America on BBC America, Sundays at 8pm EST.