Joliet: Bernstein vs Dixon again in 2002

Bernstein vs. Dixon II: another amazing Top Fuel battle brewing in 2002. JOLIET, Ill. - The 2002 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series hasn't even reached it's midpoint and the chase for the coveted Top Fuel championship is looking like it could be...

Bernstein vs. Dixon II: another amazing Top Fuel battle brewing in 2002.

JOLIET, Ill. - The 2002 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series hasn't even reached it's midpoint and the chase for the coveted Top Fuel championship is looking like it could be even more thrilling that last season's heart-stopping affair.

Sure, Larry Dixon has streaked out to an amazing start, posting eight final round finishes (five victories) in nine starts, but Kenny Bernstein, the defending series champion and only driver to hold championship trophies in drag racing's top two categories, is showing signs that his Budweiser King dragster has been cured of the ailments it suffered in earlier races this season.

With victories at Houston and Englishtown, N.J., and runner-up finishes at Pomona, Calif. and Gainesville, Fla., Bernstein is hanging close to Dixon, who has looked unbeatable at times this season. But an experienced veteran like Bernstein knows that if he's to catch the young driver who's inspired to win his first NHRA championship, he'll have to have a "Run to Remember" over the last 14 races that has absolutely nothing to do with his well-publicized retirement tour.

Indeed, the stakes will be high for the two Top Fuel gunslingers at the fifth annual Chicagoland Dodge Dealers NHRA Nationals, May 30-June 2, at Route 66 Raceway. Bernstein, Del Worsham, Mike Edwards and Antron Brown are the defending winners of the $1.9 million race, the 10th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Last season Bernstein had a memorable outing at Route 66, posting a thrilling victory over Gary Scelzi in record-setting fashion. With cool conditions, Bernstein clocked the national record elapsed time, posting a 4.477 second pass and thrilling all fans. More importantly for Bernstein, he earned 20 bonus points which proved very critical in his finally tally as NHRA officials counted points in November.

Bernstein would like to repeat that performance and keep the momentum going. "We're second in the point standings and we've won two races," Bernstein said. "We seem to have picked up where we left off last year on the battlefield with Larry Dixon and we need to play a little catch-up. It's still early in the season, but we need to be consistent and we need to go rounds."

Bernstein's victory at Chicago last year capped an impressive three race win streak, where he also took titles in New Jersey and Kansas. Dixon wants to do everything he can to stop a potential Bernstein winning streak in 2002.

"They have a great team and we have to make sure we take advantage of every opportunity to beat them," said Dixon, who holds a 3-1 edge this season when they meet head-to-head, including a 2-1 advantage in final round meetings. "We know we are going to have to race that team in a few finals this season, so we need to be ready."

With his phenomenal start -- the best ever for a Top Fuel driver -- Dixon can't help but look at the possibilities that the season holds. Not only is a first championship in sight, but he is in position to break a few records, including most wins in a season, currently held by Gary Scelzi (9); most final rounds in a season, currently held by Bernstein (12); and most round wins in a season, also held by Bernstein (61).

"It's been very important for this team to get off to such a great start," Dixon said. "But our goal is not to have the greatest start in NHRA history. We want to have the greatest finish in NHRA history. If we can do that, I think we'll achieve our ultimate goal, which is to win the NHRA POWERade championship."

Dixon says records are great, but there's only one stat he wants to lead when the season ends. "Last year we had one of the best seasons ever in Top Fuel, but it wasn't good enough -- Bernstein was better," Dixon said. "We scored more points than many of the past champions and didn't get it done. That has made us work harder during the off-season and I think that's why we've got off to such a good start. But there's so much racing left and anything can happen, we have to stay focused."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Del Worsham , Gary Scelzi , Mike Edwards