Brainerd: Final summary

Bernstein, Force, Coughlin and Scali earn wins at Brainerd International Raceway. BRAINERD, Minn. - John Force won for the 10th time in Minnesota on Sunday, beating his teammate in the final round of Funny Car at the 21st annual Rugged Liner...

Bernstein, Force, Coughlin and Scali earn wins at Brainerd International Raceway.

BRAINERD, Minn. - John Force won for the 10th time in Minnesota on Sunday, beating his teammate in the final round of Funny Car at the 21st annual Rugged Liner NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Kenny Bernstein, Jeg Coughlin and Geno Scali also won their respective categories at the $1.9 million race, the 16th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Force drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a 5.405-second pass at 216.62 mph in a tire-smoking battle to beat Densham's 6.929 at 130.27 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Force has an NHRA record 103 career victories.

"Maybe I ought to move to Brainerd," Force said. "It's a beautiful place and in the last three days, we have had a lot of fun. We got out of the groove (in the finals) and the car started to rattle pretty bad. But it was trucking. It wasn't pretty, but ugly or not, it was a win."

Bernstein inched closer to the Top Fuel points lead, beating Larry Dixon in the final round. Bernstein went 4.830 at 303.16 in the Budweiser King dragster to beat Dixon's 5.410 at 218.12 in the Miller Lite dragster. Bernstein, who trailed Dixon by 259 points in June, cut the lead to 80 with the win. It was Bernstein's fourth victory in eight final rounds this season, and the 65th of his career.

"We've had some good momentum going since St. Louis," Bernstein said. "(Crew chief) Tim Richards has really had control of the car. At the beginning of the year (Dixon's crew chief) Dick LaHaie really had their car under control, but we are working together real well and we have the tire and the setup under control now."

When Dixon's lead had surpassed the 200-point mark, the Bernstein camp did some math. In order to be competitive and within reach of a second consecutive title, Bernstein said he had to be less than 100 points away from Dixon before the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park at the end of the month.

Mission accomplished - so far.

"Larry has been doing a great job as a driver and that team has been doing a great job," Bernstein said. "They've been doing real well in the last two years and I think every time we have to face them, we have to have everything together when you get up to the line. I hope they feel the same way about us. It's a tough battle, it's like World War III every race and you can't give up anything."

Bernstein beat John Smith in the first round, only because Smith left the line early, fouling out. Bernstein's car lost power before mid-track while Smith's car went the distance under full power. The red light, however, gave Bernstein the victory.

"We were certainly lucky in the first round and we were lucky again in the final round," Bernstein said. "We dropped a cylinder in the final round around the 330-foot mark. I knew right away we lost a cylinder and I thought it was terrible. I was surprised that (Dixon) hadn't passed me at the time we lost the cylinder."

The Pro Stock class isn't any less competitive. The only difference is that there have been even more battles. In the first 16 races of the season, there have been 11 different drivers. Coughlin leads the category with the most victories, picking up No. 3 in Brainerd.

Coughlin earned the 26th win of his career by beating Greg Anderson in the final round of Pro Stock. Coughlin drove his Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier to a 6.981 at 199.11 to earn the victory over Anderson's 6.984 at 199.82 in his Vegas General Construction Chevy Cavalier.

This was the third time Coughlin and Anderson have met in the final round. Coughlin has two of the three wins.

"We couldn't be happier," Coughlin said. "I feel real comfortable and confident with the car. We've traded back and forth, and I feel real fortunate to get the best of this one."

Coughlin started the season in 17th place after he failed to qualify for the season-opening race in Pomona, Calif.

"We're working on (closing the gap to first place)," Coughlin, the 2000 Pro Stock champion, said. "This has been a very exciting season for fans, sponsors and everyone else involved. We're trying to keep our game face on. In Pro Stock, there is zero tolerance. There isn't any room for errors.

"In the first 10 races of the year, we struggled. We've really stepped it up and we've moved up in the points. That is an excellent feeling."

Anderson also had a great feeling, even without the event victory. For the first time in his career, Anderson is leading the category standings. Anderson surpassed Jim Yates with help from the runner-up finish.

"Overall it was a great weekend because we got the points lead, but we are here to win races," Anderson said. "We let another one get away."

Scali earned his first Pro Stock Bike victory with a 7.277 run at 183.05 on his Craftsman Tools Kawasaki. He beat Craig Treble's 7.295 at 185.59 on his Matco Tools Suzuki to become the first person to ride a Kawasaki to a win since 1992.

"My crew chief Pete Briggs has been involved with racing for years and he has always been with Kawasaki," Scali said. "Well, at the beginning of the year, we said we wanted to get into the (special bonus race at the U.S. Nationals) the K&N Klash and we wanted to win a race and be able to get that Wally trophy that we all dream about."

Scali has been racing with the NHRA since 1995. He joined with Briggs just before the season started. "My whole focus is around racing and that is the same for Pete," Scali said. "I don't want this to be just a one race thing, I want to make sure this happens again."

The next NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event is the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Aug. 28- Sept. 2.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , John Force , Craig Treble , Dick LaHaie , Geno Scali , Tim Richards