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SOUTH NORFOLK, CHESAPEAKE
Since he was 16 years old, Chesapeake native William Brown III has been living life in the fast lane at the drag strip - at least on a part-time basis.
After nearly two decades of local and national competition, his drag racing skills and experience paid off at the American Drag Racing League's World Finals VIII at the Texas Motorplex in Dallas last month.
In his first full season competing in the league's Top Sportsman class, Brown made an impressive bid for the world championship.
He narrowly missed clinching the title, but was able to claim his first ADRL victory when he beat his competitor in the finals with a speed of 168 mph in 4.222 seconds.
Brown finished the season with a total of 3,184 points - 77 points behind world champion Marco Abruzzi, the Summit Racing Equipment Top Sportsman for the 2012 season.
Brown's family moved to the South Norfolk area when he was a year old. He graduated from Oscar Smith High School in 1996 and earned a degree in building construction technology from Norfolk State University.
He and his father, William Brown Jr., each own trucking companies - Mercedes Trucking Company and William M. Brown and Sons Hauling and Recycling Yard. In addition, WB III - as some of his friends call him - works as a longshoreman at Norfolk International Terminals.
"My dad and I do the racing out of our pockets," he said. "Racing is basically a hobby that we really put our hearts and money into. We really enjoy it. It doesn't pay good, but it's fun."
The elder Brown competed at Suffolk Raceway as a teenager and his son followed in his footsteps. In the summer, when most other youngsters in the neighborhood went to the YMCA or camp, Brown and his family went to the racetrack every weekend.
"We were just brought up around racing and have grown to love it. We made friends at the race track," said Brown. "It all started hanging around my dad in the garage and passing him tools and stuff."
William Brown III is a member and licensed driver in all three organizations that sanction drag racing - the American Drag Racing League, the National Hot Rod Association and the International Hot Rod Association.
"When I got to the age that I could drive - at 16 - I had the opportunity to drive the race car. I've been driving ever since. I'm 34 now," said Brown. "My dad taught me how to drive. I didn't have to go to (driving) school. I grew up from there.
"Now, he asks me questions about driving, and I'm able to teach him a few of the things that I've learned."
Most of the racers that inspired WB III were locals that he watched and admired as a youngster at Suffolk Raceway. Bert Jackson encouraged Brown to compete in the ADRL. Jackson died tragically last year in a racing accident in Rockingham, N.C.
"Bert was older than me. He was from out of Richmond. I used to go to Maryland and Petersburg to watch him race," recalled Brown. "He inspired me to do the ADRL sanctions. At that time, he was the only African-American over in that series. Once I started, I was the second."
While Brown's cobalt blue Top Sportsman racer resembles a 2004 Pontiac Grand Am, his car has little in common with the production model that bears the same manufacturer's logo. Brown Racing's Pontiac Grand Am has a carbon fiber body and a chassis constructed of chromoly tubing.
On the drag strip, it covers an eighth of a mile in 4.18 seconds at more than 172 mph. It runs on 118 octane BP racing fuel, which uses nitrous oxide and a special additive to keep the mixture from detonating and destroying the car's 1800 horsepower engine.
"We had a great year this year. We've been able to afford to pay our expenses without having to take so much out of our pockets because of the earnings we won," observed Brown. "My team is pretty excited. They're happy with what happened. For our first year - full time - following the 10-race schedule for ADRL, we did awesome."
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