Paul Brown July 8, 1969–Oct. 13, 2012
By now the word is out that 2011 Grand Am champion Paul Brown died of melanoma last October. It's equally well-reported that Paul was the son of long-time Ford chassis-expert Kenny Brown, and that Paul was an exceptionally nice guy. Regular readers may also recall Paul graced our April 2012 cover when we compared his championship Boss 302S to the street-going Boss.
That's all true, but somehow simply reciting the facts leaves anyone who knew Paul Brown with more than the usual empty space that is left when a friend is no longer here. At just 43 years of age, Paul was taken painfully early, robbing him of many more laps and us the pleasure of watching his joy in driving them. For if nothing else, Paul loved to drive and compete wheel-to-wheel on a road course. He had a hunger for it few understand and even fewer satiate so fully.
Paul's appetite was bared to the world in 1993 when he first took a Mustang onto a professional race course. Though he was the son of an already famous Mustang builder, Paul was estranged from his father and bereft of any material advantage that may have given him. His early racing efforts were strictly his, pasted together with the spit and hope aspiring racers have always dragged around North America in a 24-foot trailer behind a tired pickup. At the time, his around-the-clock energy and equally boundless optimism seemed quaintly naïve, as if he should have known starry-eyed, 23-year-old privateers never make it far before burning out.
But Paul simply kept on burning. Working every minute of the way, he could measure success in top 10 finishes, while his HP Motorsport and other business ventures were good but not the stuff to easily write championship checks. There was nothing easy about it.
In the early 2000s, Paul took a pro-racing sabbatical, putting his creative fabrication talents on the market while keeping his racing hand by schooling NASA American Iron Extreme racers when possible. This led to an association with telecom mogul Tom Hollfelder and his impressive stable of blue-blood vintage racing cars. More importantly, in 2005, it also led to marriage with Tom's daughter Carol, a union as perfect as it was unconventional.
Carol, herself a World Challenge competitor, had been confined to a wheelchair from an equestrian accident for years before she met Paul, but it was never a handicap for Paul. He and Carol were an outstanding match, full of mutual support and affection, and blazing with the same racing fire. Together they built an outstanding car for Carol—featured in this magazine—before eventually concentrating on Paul's World Challenge ambitions.
Lest anyone think it was Tom's money that made the difference in Paul's racing success, it wasn't. There were side benefits from Tom's shop, where Paul kept his day job of prepping the vintage cars, but the racing was all on Paul and Carol. They were the ones arranging the sponsorship and paying the bills, and their championship success is all theirs. We doubt many appreciate their racing successes as much as Paul did.
By never giving up, Paul lived the dream for us kids who will never grow up. From struggling neophyte to his dominating 2011 championship, Paul raced a variety of outstanding cars at some of the world's greatest venues. Not many Mustang drivers can claim Ferrari 512 experience at Le Mans, for example, or time as a Morgan factory test driver. But even more telling, Paul never thought better of himself for it, and we expect many of his competitors never realized the breadth of his experience because he didn't wear it like a medal.
Ultimately, Paul's greatest accomplishments are not winning races or building incredibly crafty hand-controlled, paddle-shift Mustangs with Ford. His legacy is his balance of on-track ferocity and in-the-garage encouragement. Paul burned to win but was just as apt to help others. His pit was always a haven of fellowship, food, and drink, and his friendships were many and deep. His love of the sport lives on in the many he tutored and the energy he spent freely with others-and always with a champion's character. We saw Paul frustrated many times, but never angry. He met racing's never-ending obstacles with craft and determination.
We're happy for Paul on several counts. First for his marriage; second, in his pre-championship reconciliation with his dad; and third for his focus, determination, and ultimate victory. We're happy to have known him, and sad for Carol, Kenny, and all his family and friends for the void left behind.-Tom Wilson