Bernstein Story & Top Fuel Notebook (T/F)

For Immediate Release NHRA Communications HISTORIC FEAT INCREASES BERNSTEIN'S APPETITE FOR MORE TITLES POMONA, Calif. -- Kenny Bernstein has made history in so many ways in NHRA Winston Drag Racing that it's almost hard to keep ...

For Immediate Release

NHRA Communications

HISTORIC FEAT INCREASES BERNSTEIN'S APPETITE FOR MORE TITLES

POMONA, Calif. -- Kenny Bernstein has made history in so many ways in NHRA Winston Drag Racing that it's almost hard to keep track.

He tied an NHRA record with four consecutive Winston championships in Funny Car from 1985-88. He was the first driver to exceed 300 mph, with his 301.70 blast in 1992 in the Budweiser King Top Fuel dragster. He clinched his first NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship earlier this month, becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win a Top Fuel and Funny Car title.

So what's next for the guy who seems to have done it all?

"The only goal we ever set is to win championships," Bernstein said. "What continues to drive us and me, in particular, is the level of competition that we have to attain to go out and perform week in and week out to win.

"I still feel very competitive. And today, more than ever, I'm very much fired up to have those things get accomplished if we can do it."

That could spell trouble for Bernstein's rivals at the 32nd annual, $1,416,000 Winston Select Finals, Oct. 24-27. It's the last of 19 events on the $27-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Bernstein, from Dallas, has appeared in three of the last five final rounds this season, with two victories. He also made history with a 318.69-mph blast earlier this month at the Chief Auto Parts Nationals- - the fastest in NHRA history -- and has unleashed a steady stream of 4.6-second runs thanks to the work of crew chief Dale Armstrong and the Southern California-based team.

"It's been a great year for the Budweiser King team," Bernstein said. "The level of dedication has always been there, but since we've had some success, it's higher than ever. I never doubted that I could do it, that Dale could do it or that the team could do it."

WINSTON SELECT FINALS TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK

--Due respect: Kenny Bernstein won his first NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship this season, but he can't help but think of Blaine Johnson as he wears the crown.

Johnson led the NHRA Winston point standings by 113 points over Bernstein when he was killed in a qualifying accident during the U.S. Nationals in late August at Indianapolis.

"Our hearts are heavy because of what happened at Indianapolis to Blaine," Bernstein said. "It certainly will be a title with an asterisk by it, or a star, in some people's minds and ours because of the fact that Blaine was the points leader at the time, though, I'm sure, most people would agree that we were going to have a pretty good battle to the end."

--High praise: Kenny Bernstein's feat of becoming the first driver to win an NHRA Winston Top Fuel and Funny Car championship caught the attention of everyone involved in drag racing, especially the man who started the sport.

"One of today's foremost team owner-drivers, Kenny and his Bud King combo have earned the distinction of being the first ever to win drag racing's premier championships in both Funny Car and Top Fuel dragster categories," said Wally Parks, NHRA founder and chairman of the board. "His achievements have served as an inspiration for contestants in all classes from Jr. Dragsters through E.T. brackets, sportsman and the professional ranks."

--Speed racer: Shelly Anderson set an NHRA speed national record of 316.23 mph in the Parts America Dragster at the Chief Auto Parts Nationals earlier this month at Dallas.

Anderson, from Ontario, Calif., broke the record of 315.67 set by Scott Kalitta at the Western Auto Nationals presented by Slick 50 in July 1996 at Topeka, Kan.

--New man: Gary Scelzi will replace the late Blaine Johnson as the driver of the Johnson Racing Top Fuel dragster next season, and the team will be sponsored by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. under its Team Winston banner.

Blaine Johnson was killed in a qualifying crash Aug. 31 during the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. He led the NHRA Winston Top Fuel point standings when he died.

Alan Johnson, older brother of Blaine Johnson, will remain as team owner and crew chief.

Scelzi, 36, from Fresno, Calif., has six career victories in NHRA Alcohol racing, with three in both Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car. He won the NHRA Pacific Division championship this season in Top Alcohol Dragster.

"I'm with the best sponsor in motorsports and the best tuner in NHRA Winston Drag Racing," Scelzi said. "What more could I ask? The only drawback is the way it happened."

Said Alan Johnson: "No one will ever replace Blaine. But I do see similar qualities in Gary. He's proven himself in the Alcohol ranks, and he certainly shows the potential to be a champion. That's what this whole thing is about for our entire team, winning the NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship in 1997."

--Classic: Newly-crowned NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein, driver of the Budweiser King Dragster, is the No. 1 seed for the Budweiser Classic on Oct. 26.

The winner of the 12th annual Budweiser Classic will earn a record $100,000 . Any driver who wins the Classic and the Winston Select Finals on Oct. 27 will earn a $50,000 bonus from NHRA.

The Budweiser Classic showcases the eight best Top Fuel qualifiers this season. Budweiser Classic rounds are scheduled for 11:30 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. at Pomona Raceway.

Bernstein, from Dallas, qualified No. 1 at four of 18 NHRA national events this season and was either second or third at nine races. Bernstein aims for his third Classic win, as he won in 1991 and 1993.

The Classic field, which features no event rookies, is packed with former winners. Former Classic champions in this year's field besides Bernstein are six-time winner Joe Amato, 1995 winner Larry Dixon and 1994 winner Shelly Anderson.

Anderson earned a berth in this year's Classic as first alternate. She fills the No. 2 spot held by Blaine Johnson, who suffered fatal injuries in a qualifying crash at the U.S. Nationals.

--Tuning change: Rick Cassel will replace Dan Olson next season as crew chief of the Jerzees Dragster driven by 1994 NHRA Winston Rookie of the Year Bob Vandergriff Jr.

Cassel, 37, served as assistant crew chief for Don Prudhomme Racing since 1994.

--Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 24, one of only two professional qualifying sessions held on a Thursday this season. Qualifying will continue with a session at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 25, and finish with sessions at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Final eliminations start at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 27. Sportsman competition starts at 8 a.m. Oct. 24.

--Tickets: Tickets are available for the Winston Select Finals. Call NHRA at (818) 914-4761 for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased at Ticketmaster outlets throughout Southern California. To order through Ticketmaster, call (213) 480-3232, (714) 740-2000, (805) 583-8700 or (619) 220-TIXS. Ticketmaster online information can be obtained on the World Wide Web at http://www.ticketmaster.com.

--On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 60 minutes of live final -round competition from the Winston Select Finals at 4:30 p.m. (PST) Oct. 27. TNN will televise the Budweiser Classic live from 4-5 p.m. (PDT) Oct. 26.

--On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.goracing.com/nhra/ offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics and driver biographies. -30-

Jack Durbin indy500@freenet.tlh.fl.us Motorsport News International jackd@motorsport.com (Moderators for "rec.autos.sport.info") Homepage http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/users/indy500/index.html

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Scott Kalitta , Don Prudhomme , Bob Vandergriff , Shelly Anderson