Put simply, Brandon Bernstein has a lot of expectations that have been placed on his young shoulders. Bernstein spent the 2001 season in a Top Alcohol dragster, winning the Division 7 championship. He spent the 2002 season working for his father -...
Put simply, Brandon Bernstein has a lot of expectations that have been placed on his young shoulders. Bernstein spent the 2001 season in a Top Alcohol dragster, winning the Division 7 championship. He spent the 2002 season working for his father - six time NHRA POWERade champion Kenny Bernstein - as a crewmember. The wait is over, and Brandon Bernstein is now the driver of the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster. In just the first two races of the season, young Bernstein has already made an appearance in winner's circle. In this Q&A session, Bernstein talks about what it is like to be the driver of the Top Fuel team, what he wants to accomplish this year and what he has in common with his father.
Q: You have some pretty big shoes to fill, did you expect to fill them this fast?
Bernstein: I didn't really expect it this fast and the shoes are very big to fill, but Brandon has his own shoes and we are just going to go on from there. It was very exciting to win early in the season and get that out of the way. It was pretty much a surprise. I knew the team could perform and that I could try and do the best I could do. With (crew chief) Tim Richards and the guys, they put a car out there that was capable of making great runs that weekend. That is a tribute to them and this team.
Q: How are you like your father and how are you different?
Bernstein: Basically I guess you could say I am like my father in many ways. My mannerisms are alike, we look alike, and we have the same interests in certain areas. I guess driving style-wise, we are different. I have learned all of that from him so it is like I am a mirror of him in the way he is and the way he operates the business and the driving aspect of it. I guess we are a lot alike but then we have some difference obviously, with the age difference and a generation gap. Some music that he may not like that I like. Certain things like that we are obviously different. But we do have several similarities as well. I am just learning from him as much as I can this year. This is a learning curve year for me and it is great to have him in my corner. I have the best teacher out there.
Q: What are your plans for the 2003 season?
Bernstein: Obviously we are gunning for the NHRA POWERade championship. That is the ultimate goal from everyone out here. Hopefully we can keep moving toward that and win some rounds and win some more races and be there at the end for the championship. We've got a contract with Budweiser for three more years and we are happy with that and that will take us into the 25th year with Budweiser. Hopefully it will go beyond that and I can have a career like my father's. That is the plan. We want to be fortunate enough to win races and keep going with the Budweiser and Bernstein name.
Q: Larry Dixon - driver of the blue Miller Lite dragster - has said he wasn't sure if the rivalry between the two beer cars would change at all. Do you think there is a difference with the rivalry now that you are the driver of the red Budweiser car?
Bernstein: I don't think there will be a difference at all, to tell you the truth. Both of those teams, if you want to call it the beer wars, are up there. We are going to be battling again this season. I don't think there are too many differences with that rivalry. Obviously I have to learn a lot because this is my rookie year. Coming out and winning the second race it doesn't mean that it is going to be like that every weekend. There are going to be times where I stumble or where the team stumbles but that is just part of the racing deal. It is nice that Dixon would say that it won't be too different, but there might be, but who knows? We'll eventually find out. That is a great team, they are awesome out on the track and Dixon is the champion. Everyone is gunning for the champion and we are just lucky and fortunate enough to be performing as well as they are and hopefully we can keep going forward.
Q: Some racers have been competing for decades and few changes have been made to the Christmas Tree. The 2003 season opener was the first race with new lights. Do you feel you have an advantage when it comes to dealing with the new LED lights?
Bernstein: I do believe that because I have not had as many years out there on the incandescent lights. The new system with the digital ones are perfect for me because I don't have a lot of other experience or knowledge to go back on. I can really focus on these new lights. I had a little bit of experience with the lights in 2001, but I love these new lights. They are extremely bright and you pick them up a lot quicker than you would the incandescent.
Q: Where does your competitive spirit come from?
Bernstein: I think it is instinctive. It is hereditary, I think. My father and I are both extremely competitive. I grew up in Dallas being competitive with soccer. I played soccer for a while and I just absolutely hated to lose on the soccer field. I think that is also part of my upbringing. I wanted to be a winner. I think it has a lot to do with heredity. My father is very competitive, as everybody knows. I get a lot of that from him. We are extremely competitive together.
Q: How are the other competitors reacting to you coming into the sport? How do they treat you?
Bernstein: It's been a great. It's been perfect. All of those drivers have known me for a while now because I have been working on my dad's team. They have seen me around, I've always talked to some of the guys. It has been a great time, actually. They have been terrific throughout everything. It is part of the deal. When there is a new driver, they are going to look at the rookie name there and go after that person. There are a lot of good teams out there this year. The competition has just stepped up tremendously this year. It is not just going to be just a beer war as it has been the last two years. There are a lot of competitive teams out there and those guys are going to be right there just like Dixon and myself.
Q: With just two races in the season, what has stuck out the most in your mind?
Bernstein: I guess wining that quickly has stuck out. Before, I knew this team would perform, it would just be a matter of time for me to get up to speed and actually perform too. That is the only thing that has stuck out right now. It is early in the season and there is a lot of racing left and I just hope we can keep the performance up and keep going rounds and be there for the POWERade championship.
Q: How much has your personal life changed since you took over as the driver?
Bernstein: It has changed dramatically. This has been something I have dreamed of my whole life and to be able to do this full time takes a lot of personal time. I don't really have that much personal time anymore but that is the way I want it and that is the way my father wants me with this race team. It entails long hours and long days but that is just part of it. But like I said, this is my dream and I love doing this. I wouldn't have it any other way. I love being surrounded by this team. My race team comes first. The guys that are on my team are the best out there. Last year I was with those guys and the same team has come back to be on my team and it is awesome, it's a good feeling. It has been busy, but it has been fun. This is all part of my new lifestyle and I love it.
Q: Do you think the people in your family where ready for this change from crewmember to driver?
Bernstein: I think so. I think my mom was excited about this transition and this change. My father is too. It is a great time. It is an awesome time for me.
Q: During the first Las Vegas event in 2001, you and Kenny became the first father and son combination to win at the same event. What are you looking forward to the most about returning to Las Vegas?
Bernstein: It's going to be great. There is a lot of history there when my dad won there for the first time. It was more amazing because that was my very first competition victory and I can't wait to get back there. Coming back there as a Top Fuel driver is going to be even better just because of the history that we have there. It is going to be fun. We are going to have a good time with that race. Our car runs very well at that track and I love going to the city. Las Vegas is a good city.
Q: Do you have any desires to break records your father never did in an attempt to distinguish yourself?
Bernstein: Well, I don't have any set plans for anything like that. Hopefully I will have a career like my father's and things will happen and that we will set records and we will win championships. That is all I can ask for is to do the best that I can. At the end of the day I can look myself in the mirror and know I did the best I could, that is all I can hope for. My father has had an awesome career and I can only hope to have even half of his career. I haven't let any of that pressure get to me. I am doing whatever I can to make sure it doesn't get to me. I have just been out there having fun and doing the best that I can and hopefully we can do that and the team will do their best and everything will work out well.