An interview with NHRA Legends: KENNY BERNSTEIN BOB GLIDDEN DON GARLITS THE MODERATOR: I'd like to introduce Kenny Bernstein. Kenny is the fourth winningest driver in NHRA history with 69 wins. He has left as much of a mark on this sport of...
An interview with NHRA Legends:
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to introduce Kenny Bernstein. Kenny is the fourth winningest driver in NHRA history with 69 wins. He has left as much of a mark on this sport of NHRA Drag Racing for what he did on the track as for what he has done off the track.
Kenny won the first four consecutive Funny Car Championships in 1985, and in the '90s, he reinvented himself as a Top Fuel driver where he became the first driver in NHRA history to win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.
Kenny won (eight) times at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, and (two) of those (eight) wins (were) the Winternationals in 1992 (in TF and 1987 FC). Kenny, can you talk about your memories of the Auto Club Raceway, and specifically the Winternationals and what starting the season here in Pomona meant for you getting off to a good start on your season?
KENNY BERNSTEIN: Thank you for the comments. I appreciate it. You know, the Winternationals for me, being from Texas, we called it the "Big Go" west back in the early days. That's what they named it. For all the kids back when we were growing up, we couldn't wait to have our chance to go to Pomona for the Winternationals.
Then later when I did become able to do this as a profession, the Winternationals always marked the start, obviously of the season. But it was almost a welcome race in the sense that you had been off for a couple of months and you were anxious to get back to it. You wanted all the new cars, all the new looks, all the new teams whatever was coming would always show up at Pomona. Conditions were always great there in the February also, usually cool and overcast in most cases, unfortunately some rain and snow, too.
But you looked toward Pomona as the start as any sport, any of these guys that cover sports whether it's baseball, football, anything, you want to start good. So any time you can win the Winternationals and get going, '92 was a great year because we were going to have a great season that year.
THE MODERATOR: That's a good place to pick up with Bob Glidden. Bob, you have seven seasons off to a good start, a tremendous start by winning the Winternationals. Those are the most wins all time by any driver at the Winternationals. Bob won the race seven times, and those seven wins covered a 15-year period from 1975 to 1989. He also collected wins at the Winternationals in '76, '78, '79, '81 and 1985.
Bob has also won ten NHRA Full Throttle Championships, which is second most all time behind only John Force's 14 championships.
Bob, can you begin by picking up right where Kenny left off, how important it was for you to get your season off to a good start at the Winternationals?
BOB GLIDDEN: Well, it certainly was. In Pro Stock we would spend the time from the last race which was also at Pomona to the first race, trying to improve mostly our engine programs. When we got to Pomona, of course, we as everyone else, was excited to getting to the first race each year.
But certainly it was proven to us that Pomona was a great springboard to the whole season. And if we could go and run well at Pomona, we ordinarily ran well throughout the season. Fortunately, for us, the track there at Pomona was just a great place for us to be. Because we were lucky enough to win a lot of races there.
Q: Kind of a basic question. Does winning ever get routine?
KENNY BERNSTEIN: Winning never gets old, and never becomes habit forming, believe me. There is nothing better and a better feeling than having success on a racetrack in our line of work. I mean, that's what we do it for.
In our sport you're only as good as your last win, your last time slip. So the best time to win is when you have a couple of weeks off after so you can enjoy it for a couple of weeks.
THE MODERATOR: Kenny Bernstein is number four all time with NHRA victories with 69. And Bob Glidden at number three all time with 85.
Bob, why don't you answer that question next?
BOB GLIDDEN: Well, when we first got started, you know however many years ago, 40 years ago, of course the first win seemed at that point like it was the most important thing in the world that happened to us. But as we get quite a lot older and we quit driving we find out that the last wins that we had were certainly the most important.
So to think that in any way that winning would become routine or I don't think any of us could win enough to get tired of it. So I think that is really the answer to that question.
KENNY BERNSTEIN: I'd like to add something to, just a footnote so these guys know what a person Bob Glidden is. The first race I won was 1979 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, against a guy named John Force, and we won the race. When they took the pictures in those days, you always got the cover of National Dragster with all three winners, Pro Stock, Top Fuel and Funny Car. This was in the Funny Car days.
I'll never forget, Glidden repositioned me in the photograph so that when they mailed out the National Dragster, the stamp that the post on office put on it wouldn't cover me up. It covered him up because he had had won before, and it was my first win. So I told him thank you, but I thank him again.
BOB GLIDDEN: You're too much. You know, when I started racing, of course Don Prudhomme had been winning a lot and had the Army sponsorship. And all of us little guys hoped we could be somewhat like Don Prudhomme. Then Kenny comes along and opens the whole world up to us in the business of sponsors.
And, gosh, Kenny, I know none of us have thanked you for it, but by gosh, thanks.
KENNY BERNSTEIN: Well, thank you, Bob.
Q: Bob, you won this seven times...Is there one (of those victories) in this historic race that stands out the most to you?
BOB GLIDDEN: Not really. We were so fortunate over the years. I've said it many times our career was like a storybook. If we were writing the script it wouldn't have turned on out nearly as well. And we just appreciate all the wins that we've had. And certainly the wins in the latter part of on our career are the most -- we remembered the most.
Q: How about you, Kenny Bernstein, is there any one that stands out the most to you from this track?
KENNY BERNSTEIN: Well, I remember over the years the win of all things, there's two. One the wreck with (Joe) Amato (in 1993), when the finals there was something I don't forget very often. It knocked me goofy for a while.
But the one I really remember is the first one I ever went to. I was driving for Ray Alley's Engine Masters Funny Car. We were from Texas. We were in California. It was 1973, the very first one I ever went to as a driver.
We made it to the runner-up position and got beaten by the little guy there by the name of Don Schumacher in the final. What an accomplishment for three guys from Texas trying to run a race car with Ray and having fun. I don't think I'll ever forget that because we had never been to a Winternationals before. And to get to the finals was a really big deal. The only thing that could have been better was winning it. I almost felt like we did win it that day to be honest.
Q: How does Pomona kind of compare to maybe the U.S. Nationals? And what kind of things went into kind of planning for that race and just maybe just the atmosphere there compared to Indianapolis and going there and the importance that that race held?
BOB GLIDDEN: Well, I think at least to the Pro Stock guys, they're totally different. Here, again I'll say that we've had back in my years we had a month and a half or two months off. And had a lot of time to do a lot of work, hoping that we got better. The Winternationals was the point that we found out where we were standing for the season.
By the time we get to the (U.S.) Nationals, everyone's pretty much fallen into their seasons to how they're running and how they're going to do for the year. And the Nationals is just a completely different atmosphere for Pro Stock racers.
THE MODERATOR: Kenny, you want to tackle that question comparing the Winternationals to the U.S. Nationals?
KENNY BERNSTEIN: I agree on everything Bob said there. It is a different animal. But what we try to do, and what I try to do, let's put it that way is treat every race the same. One is not any different than the others when it comes to winning the event. It's more prestigious to win the U.S. Nationals by all means.
In all reality it pays a little more money, but the points which is what you're trying to garner is the nature of the beast to get in today into the Countdown, but in the past just to win a championship.
So consequently I still to this day try to teach my team, don't get all caught up in the hoopla of the U.S. Nationals as being something outrageously special. It is, but it isn't. It is because of what it is tradition. But it isn't because you're racing pretty much the same guys you're racing every week on the same kind of racetrack, and you have to just do a better job and come out and win.
But I don't kid myself the U.S. Nationals does stand above everything else as far as the win goes. If you had to say you can win one race in your career and that's it, the U.S. Nationals would be the one you want to win.
THE MODERATOR: Before we move on to the next question. I'd like to introduce Don Garlits. Don is one of the earliest innovators of the sport. We've already met Bob Glidden and Kenny Bernstein who, of course, were huge parts of NHRA in the '70s, '80s, and the '90s. Don represents the '60s, and early part of the '70s in terms of NHRA and Winternationals. And of course, Garlits will perhaps best be remembered for his innovation where he moved the engine from the front of the Top Fuel dragster to the rear. When he first debuted it at the 1971 Winternationals, he won that race.
Don, can you start there by telling us the story about when you made that engineering move and coming to the Winternationals in '71 and winning that year?
DON GARLITS: I made the move after I had that terrible accident in Long Beach, and I cut off part of my right foot. It really made me mad. You know, I saw so many of my friends getting maimed and killed in those cars. And I thought, well, I'm going to try to design something here that will make it safer.
And I thought why can't we have a dragster that goes down a quarter mile in a straight line just fine if they're maneuvering around Indianapolis Raceway Park at 200 miles an hour in rear-engine cars. It didn't make any sense to me we couldn't do it in drag racing yet they could go in and out of traffic 200 miles an hour with a rear engine car, and a short wheel base at that.
So with that thought in mind, I went to work on it. It was harder than I thought. It took three months to work out the bugs. Of course, I wanted to show it at the Winternationals.
To me the Winternationals was a little different than some of the guys. I always looked at it as a race that was the start of the season. I came from Florida to California. Got to see all of the guys' new stuff. Got to visit all my friends at the manufacturing places, and then you go out to Pomona and you do your thing.
It just kind of set the tone for the whole year if you did real well. Of course, this was the days before 25 races in the season, where like Kenny says they're all the same now. He's got a point there. They weren't all the same in those days.
The Winternationals was a special deal because that's where we saw the new cars. That's where we tested our new stuff like that rear engine car was tested. Well, I tested a lot of stuff there. The first port nozzles in drag racing were tested there in Pomona. The wing on the car in 1963 was tested there in Pomona. It was a test bed. Of course if it didn't work real well, you went home and regrouped and you had time because there wasn't a race real soon afterwards.
But it was just a great deal because we loved it. It was out in California where all the manufacturers were, all the equipment was out there. The track was great, and there were lots of competitors.
I remember one time in a winter meet, not the Winternationals, but there was 125 fuel dragsters entered in the race.
Continued in part 2