Dallas: Round 20 preview

BERNSTEIN IN TIGHTEST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE OF CAREER; FATHER PREPARES RETURN TO DRIVER'S SEAT ENNIS, Texas -- He may be Dallas' fastest son, but Brandon Bernstein isn't, in his words, "a country kind of guy." He grew up in Dallas with his ...

BERNSTEIN IN TIGHTEST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE OF CAREER; FATHER PREPARES RETURN TO DRIVER'S SEAT

ENNIS, Texas -- He may be Dallas' fastest son, but Brandon Bernstein isn't, in his words, "a country kind of guy." He grew up in Dallas with his mother, attended Dallas Jesuit High School and graduated from Texas A&M with a major in Kinesiology (yes, people always ask what that means).

He loves his native Texas, but he doesn't drive a truck, or own a gun rack. Instead, Bernstein drives one of the most powerful machines in motorsports -- the 7,000 horsepower Budweiser Top Fuel dragster.

Bernstein is one of the brightest drivers in NHRA's "Brat Pack," a group of young drivers who were born into the world's fastest motorsport.

The roster of young talent is impressive - Bernstein, Top Fuel driver Morgan Lucas, Funny Car driver Eric Medlen and the soon-to-be professional Ashley Force, star of the A&E real life television show "Driving Force." It's the best of the best of NHRA pedigree, and Bernstein, son of the legendary Kenny Bernstein, continues to impress as he builds a formidable reputation behind the wheel of the Budweiser Top Fuel dragster his father turned over to him in 2003.

Bernstein and the rest of the elite drivers come to Dallas for the 21st annual O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec, Sept. 21-24 at Texas Motorplex, the world's only all-concrete quarter-mile drag strip. The $1.7 million race is the 19th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

This season he'll return home deep in the closest POWERade point chases of his life. Bernstein is third in the POWERade standings entering the race, just 96 points behind leader Doug Kalitta, and 42 behind second-place Tony Schumacher, the reigning and three-time world champion who clinched the 2005 title with a win in Dallas last year. Bernstein feels more at home in his ride than ever.

"Every year it just seems like I get more and more comfortable," Bernstein said. "Every time I make a run down the track it feels more natural. It becomes an easy process when you do it so many times."

Every year marks an ascent in the learning curve for the 34-year-old who raced to an impressive three wins before his outstanding rookie debut was cut short by a season-ending crash at Englishtown in 2003.

Before the accident, Bernstein was ecstatic -- happy to be driving the dragster. After his return, Bernstein focused on getting back in the driver's seat.

"It all came back quickly and naturally," he said. "In my first year I pushed a little too far, with the crash. By the second year I knew there would be other days you could race. Just let it go if it's not there. We can always race again."

This season is about feeling completely at ease behind the wheel, and resuming his quest for a first world championship title that ended abruptly with the accident three years ago.

"This year's been a great season so far," Bernstein said. "I've felt really, really comfortable, having a full year behind me. This year's been one of those years when everything has been natural. We've had some success (with wins at Houston, Columbus, Ohio and Brainerd, Minn.) and we're right there for the championship."

He also returns home fresh off of an announcement that shocked the drag racing world. Just weeks ago, Kenny Bernstein announced he will return to fulltime POWERade competition behind the Monster Energy Drink Funny Car.

Brandon calls the announcement "a relief."

"It's just cool to have that out in the open now," said Brandon, who may make a test run or two in the Funny Car but will remain focused on his Top Fuel entry. Kenny's return to Funny Car was one of the closest guarded secrets in NHRA history. "I just think about how it's going to be fun having him back in a Funny Car."

While Kalitta and Schumacher stand in his way, the most successful woman on the current tour, Melanie Troxel, is challenging from the fourth spot. Dave Grubnic rounds out the top five contenders in Top Fuel.

While his Don Schumacher-owned teammates try to move up in the Top Fuel standings, Ron Capps looks to earn his first Funny Car world championship title against the likes of 13-time champion John Force, the 2005 event winner, and Force's son-in-law, Robert Hight.

Pro Stock is a battle of the teammates with Jason Line at No. 1 over his Summit Racing Equipment partner Greg Anderson, the three-time and defending world champion who won at Texas Motorplex last year. Young gun Dave Connolly is in third place with four victories. The battles continue in Dallas.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 and 7 p.m. on Sept. 22, and noon and 3 p.m. on Sept. 23. Eliminations start at 11 a.m. on Sept. 24.

TICKETS: For tickets, call NHRA, at (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available at Ticketmaster, ticketmaster.com or nhra.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying at 11 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 23. ESPN2 will telecast NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute weekly news magazine show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET) and televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 24.

ON THE WEB: Quick access to NHRA media relations department press releases, electronic images and other information is available on the Internet at http://media.nhra.com.

-credit: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Morgan Lucas , Jason Line , Eric Medlen , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight , Dave Connolly