National Guard member Brandon Brown is ready for Baer Field Motorsports Park racing return

Brandon Brown drives No. 51 because mentor Lee Gillingham drove No. 15. (Photo Courtesy of Jody Prince)

It’s been quite a while since Brandon Brown has been able to take a victory lap.

Brown won fast qualifier, the heat race and then the feature in the stock front-wheel drive class at Baer Field Motorsports Park on June 9. It was his first career victory at the start of his third season.

Two days later, he was on his way to Australia with his Indiana Army National Guard unit for 26 days of specialized training. While there, the sergeant kept avoiding some of the world’s deadliest animals while on maneuvers.

“It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget,” Brown said. “The seven deadliest creatures are all in Australia. Literally for 12 days, we were in the box — the training area — and we were in the woods, camping out and doing our little training missions. Every night, I shook out my sleeping bag making sure there wasn’t someone living in there.”

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Brown, 36, finally came home to his wife Michelle, daughter Chloe, 11, and son Cayden, 8, on Friday, and he’ll make his return to the driver’s seat on Saturday. Michelle and Caden serve as co-crew chiefs on the car, with Chloe screaming encouragement. When Michelle couldn’t find Caden one afternoon last week, he was in the garage cleaning out the No. 51 car to make sure it was ready to go when Dad got home.

Dad is definitely ready to race. His racing hobby started a few years ago when he helped out on Lee Gillingham’s crew. Whenever Gillingham had to work late, Brown would pull the car to the track and get it ready. One day, Gillingham was later than usual when fellow driver Brian Janes told Brown he had to take the car out for a hotlap. An anxious Brown climbed into Jane’s extra race suit and used Gillingham’s helmet.

“I was a little nervous, but I got out there and thought I was going fast,” Brown said. “I thought, `All right, I can do this!’ I thought I was doing a pretty decent job and then I got blown away by everybody else.

“It was fun. I was hugging the inside line like a little chicken, that’s for sure.”

By the time he got back to the garage, Gillingham had arrived to tell Brown he was racing that night. Brown overcame his jitters to finish fifth or sixth.

With help from his family Caden 8, Chloe 11 and wife Michelle, Brandon Brown won his first feature race on June 9. (Photo Courtesy of Jody Prince)

After that, he bought a car from Jesse Opliger and finished 10th in the standings before purchasing his current car, an Integra, before last season.

Knowing he was going to leave for Australia and training, Brown reached out to buddy Shawn Poffenberger to see if he’d like to fill in this summer. Poffenberger has been racing for eight years, but he’s also a former Indiana Army National Guard member.

“I crack the car up, and I owe him a car,” Poffenberger said with a grin. “I have a spare sitting in my garage. I was supposed to run with the outlaw class this year, but over the winter we had to back plans off a little bit. Brandon and I talked about it and he needed some help getting the car the rest of the way together, so it worked out real well for both of us to work together.”

Brown’s main concern was providing sponsors MetalX, Big Dog Motorsports, Team Gilbert MDA and Chip’s Auto Repair enough exposure. Poffenberger did pretty well, winning a couple features, and Brown said his goal is to climb next to his buddy in the standings.

“The brotherhood in the National Guard doesn’t just stay in the guard,” Brown said. “He took over the wheel and took care of the car. Once that bond is made, we look out for our own, and he looked out for me while I was gone.”

And if Brown has to get out of the car for a weekend drill, Poffenberger will climb back in.

“The big huge thing when it comes to racing at Baer Field, everybody out there is a family,” Brown said. “If wasn’t for Dave and Jody Muzzillo we wouldn’t have a circle track to go out there. Even though we’re in competition out there, they are the first to jump in and help out the last guy or the slow guy and try to make them better. Everybody is 100 percent family out there. If anybody needs a hand, I’d do the same thing. We’re just a big family that tries to help out each other.”