Series spotlight - Pete Berner

Crunch time for defending world champ While most drivers already have their finger placed squarely on the panic button, or at least darn close to it, that isn't really the case for Pete Berner. In fact, Berner actually prefers to be in the ...

Crunch time for defending world champ

While most drivers already have their finger placed squarely on the panic button, or at least darn close to it, that isn't really the case for Pete Berner.

In fact, Berner actually prefers to be in the position of the hunter instead of the hunted, especially this late in the season.

After all, this is all very familiar territory for the two-time IHRA World Pro Stock Champion.

"The last two championships I won were by narrow margins and when I came in second the year before last it was also by a matter of just a few points," Berner noted. "They know as well as I do that I am going to put as much pressure on them as possible. If they are going to win the championship they are going to have to earn it.

"I don't give up until the very end."

So whatever you do, don't ever count Berner out.

Despite currently sitting in one of the worst slumps of his career, a stretch that includes two consecutive first round losses that has dropped him from second to fourth in points, Berner is as confident as ever that he can get things turned around and make a serious run at a third championship with three races remaining.'

"The last couple of races we have been in a slump. I haven't been driving as well as I had and the motor has been hurt. We didn't realize it at the time because the car was competitive, but starting back in Grand Bend the motor was hurting," Berner said. "Once we get the motor program back up to speed, which we have already started to do, we should be fine. We just need to be better prepared and focused on doing a good job driving.

"We seem to do better as pressure gets on us so we are really looking forward to the last three races."

And what better place to get things turned around than at New England Dragway.

Berner is the defending winner of the Amalie Oil North American Nationals and right now he could use a bit of help getting things turned around.

"We went out and did some testing and we are going to test again before we go to Epping. We will definitely have our game face on when we go there," Berner said. "We aren't going to give up easily. Frank is doing a really good job and they have just been more consistent than us as a team.

"When you have great competition like that it just makes you rise to the occasion. Hopefully we will have our act together when we get to the next race."

Berner's slump began in mid-July during the Canadian Nationals in Grand Bend and has resulted in back-to-back first round losses for the first time in a very long time for Berner and his team.

Coming off of a win in Tulsa the month prior, Berner went into Canada sitting second in points, just three markers shy of leader Frank Gugliotta. His weekend was nearly flawless through the first two days of competition as Berner put the familiar blue and gold Quarter-Max machine second on the charts entering eliminations.

On Sunday, however, things quickly took a turn for the worse.

Despite putting up the best numbers of the weekend during his first round pass against Dean Goforth, it was not enough to hold off the 65-year-old as Goforth nipped Berner by less than an inch at the line.

While the run was superb, the result was not as great and that is when Berner began to notice something was a little off with the engine.

"Even though we were low E.T. for eliminations, the motor was hurt. We didn't realize it because we were running so well and then going into Martin it developed more of a problem," Berner said.

His troubles continued at the Northern Nationals in Michigan as the engine issues continued to worsen. Berner qualified sixth -- his lowest qualifying spot of the year -- and he once again found himself on the sideline after just one pass on Sunday, this time falling at the hands of John Montecalvo.

"We just didn't have the power that we had before therefore we weren't making good choices and not making good runs," Berner said.

From sitting just three points back of the leader in June to plummeting to fourth some 99 points back in July, it has been quite a ride for the defending champ.

But what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger and Berner is using that old saying to focus on getting a new and -- if you can believe it -- better motor prepared for the final three races.

"The day after Martin we debuted a new motor which is much better than the one we had been racing with," Berner said. "We now have three good bullets and we are finally back up to speed. This motor is going to be much better than our last race motor we had run."

Now it is off to Epping, New Hampshire and the very familiar New England Dragway for Berner and his crew as they try to correct a month full of problems and turn the corner.

"I think we will have some pretty good bullets going into that race. If I leave on time and drive the way I know I can drive I think we will do well," Berner said. "It is very possible to get this turned around, I have won three races in a row in the past. We all have these slumps and we plan on coming out of ours."

Even scarier for the competition is that Berner, who has his own in-house engine program, has even more tricks up his sleeve.

"We have two great guys, Jerry Janota and Mike Slaviero that work endlessly on these motors everyday. They are always looking to find us more power and we have one that we are assembling right now that will be our fourth motor and I think it is going to be better than this one," Berner said. "We are constantly evolving and trying new things and working with some great manufacturers. It shows great dedication from our engine shop as to what our potential is."

While everything is finally going smoothly under the hood, now Berner shifts his focus to the cool New England weather as his next challenge.

"We have made some really great runs there, but it will be a crapshoot. Being later in the year it could be a little cooler and it will be really fast, but we are typically at our best when the track is slick like Tulsa," Berner said. "We have won three years in a row in Tulsa and that is because we really know how to get down those types of tracks."

But concerning himself with things out of his control has never really been Berner's style.

In fact, in the midst of the most competitive season of Pro Stock racing in a long time, Berner is quite pleased with the position he is in and can't wait to hit the track again later this month.

"This is the way I prefer to race. It is a lot more fun when you have this kind of competition. All of these guys, whoever wins the championship, they know they have to earn it," Berner said. "When you have pressure to do well that is when this team rises to the occasion and we are ready to do just that."

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers John Montecalvo