Heartland Park Topeka Bernstein Feels It Is Only A Matter Of Time Before The Copart Dragster Is Back In The Winner’S Circle TOPEKA, Kan. – For a sport that prides itself on making extremely powerful runs in a straight line, when race teams find...
Bernstein Feels It Is Only A Matter Of Time Before The Copart Dragster Is Back In The Winner’s Circle
TOPEKA, Kan. – For a sport that prides itself on making extremely powerful runs in a straight line, when race teams find themselves mired in a slump, the quickest way out is usually just around the turn.
Brandon Bernstein and his Copart dragster crew finally can see the bright light of their ultimate destination — returning to the top of the order in NHRA Top Fuel competition. It is just ahead, and they are moving toward it at full speed.
After nearly winning the world championship title in 2007 following back-to-back seasons that produced nine victories in 14 finals, Bernstein has claimed only one victory in 14 final round appearances in the four seasons since then.
For a team that has long prided itself on being a front-running world championship contender, a dry spell from victory lane that dates back to Richmond 2009 is simply not acceptable. Not for Bernstein, his crew members, or his six-time world champion father and team owner, Kenny.
After posting a runner-up finish at Las Vegas and earning a bunch of qualifying bonus points as one of the strongest and most consistent running cars during qualifying sessions at Houston and Atlanta, the Copart team feels like it is on the verge of a breakthrough that could come as early as this weekend at the NHRA Summer Nationals, May 20-22 at Heartland Park Topeka. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event that will be televised by ESPN2 HD.
“I think we’re really close to turning the corner,” the younger Bernstein said. “Our numbers in qualifying in Houston particularly showed that we could run with anybody. Mechanically, the car shows a tremendous amount of promise.”
Team owner Kenny Bernstein says the team is in the middle of going in a new direction with their tuning combination with new crew chiefs Todd Smith and Donnie Bender on board. He says the process takes time, but overall it is showing progress.
“We’re getting new data on every run and we’re learning every time we go down the track,” the elder Bernstein said. “We are going through a learning curve, which is a necessary step, but sometimes our decisions bite us. We have to find out what we can get away with. Once you get enough runs under different conditions then you have a dictionary that can help you. It becomes easier to make a good run without stepping off the edge. The break through comes when you accumulate a lot of knowledge. Then when you win a race, it gives you the opportunity to win more. And it doesn’t hurt to have a little luck every once in a while. But the key is being consistent, the driver included.”
With victories to his credit at Heartland Park in 2007 and 2004 and a runner-up finish there in 2006, Brandon Bernstein feels the team could build some much-needed momentum at the Kansas track.
“We’ve been to the final round three of the seven years I’ve competed at Heartland Park,” said Bernstein, who has 18 career victories. “Those are great odds. It boosts your confidence when you have made that drive to victory circle at a track.”
It is another boost to know that his car is capable of performing against a strong field of Top Fuel challengers, such as defending world champ Larry Dixon and seven-time champ Tony Schumacher. He has qualified in the top half of the field all season and posted top five qualifying performances in the last four races, including a second place effort at Las Vegas and a third place position at Atlanta this past weekend.
We have to find out what we can get away with.
“The competition in this category is extremely tough,” said Bernstein, who sits ninth in the series standings. “About half of the starting field on a given Sunday has a great chance to win. Morgan (Lucas) got a win early in the season, and Del (Worsham) has been extremely successful since his switch to Top Fuel this year. The Al-Anabi cars and Schumacher cars are always a threat, as are the Kalitta cars, and Morgan’s team. In this class you’re surrounded by some pretty intimidating talent.”
In Funny Car, Mike Neff has been pulling double duty this season, serving as both crew chief and driver for the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. His hard work is paying off as the Southern California native leads the point standings with one victory in three final round appearances. His teammate, defending event winner Hight, is third in points with two wins in the Auto Club Mustang. Other pre-race favorites include nine-time Heartland Park Topeka winner John Force, two-time season winner Jack Beckman, who is currently second in points, along with 2010 series runner-up Matt Hagan. Two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon is a four-time winner at Topeka, while three-time Topeka winner Ron Capps has new tuner Tim Richards calling the shots for the NAPA Dodge Charger.
In a parity filled Pro Stock class, 2006 world champ Jason Line leads the way with three victories aboard his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP. Rookie phenom Vincent Nobile, defending world champ Greg Anderson and 2009 champ Mike Edwards have also claimed Wallys this season. Several drivers have emerged as title contenders as they chase their first career victories, including Pomona top qualifier Erica Enders, Houston runner-up Rodger Brogdon and Houston No. 1 qualifier Ronnie Humphrey.
Funny Car Driver Ron Capps Always A Threat To Win Nhra Summer Nationals At Heartland Park Topeka
TOPEKA, Kan. – Ron Capps isn’t off to the fast start that the veteran driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger has grown accustomed to over the years, but in his estimation, at the end of the day, that may not be a bad thing.
In the past Capps has been a familiar face in quite a few winner’s circle celebrations during the first five to 10 races in each NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season. He was racking up Wally trophies at a frenetic pace at historic races like the Winternationals and Gatornationals in February and March.
However, by November when the steam cooled off of his early-season locomotive rush his team was left to ponder what might have been in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Capps has been a championship runner-up three times in his career and the world championship title that has so far eluded him remains his single biggest pursuit.
Not that he’s decided to change his gameplan or anything, but in a season of well-documented transition for his NAPA team, Capps is OK biding his time and letting new crew chief Tim Richards get settled into his new post. Capps wants to hit his stride near the end of the season this year and peak at the right time. Playoff time.
“We’ve been hot early before and then come up short in the Countdown,” said Capps, who has posted one semifinal and two quarterfinal finishes so far this season and sits ninth in the series standings. “It’s about getting hot when it matters. We’ve seen in the past few years, the car winning the championship is not necessarily the best car during the season, which is a product of the Countdown format. You have to get hot at the right time and that’s our goal. It’s like the NFL playoffs – first you have to get in, then you have to win all the games to get to the Super Bowl.”
He feels confident that with well-decorated tuner Richards at the helm, it could be as early as this weekend at the NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, May 20-22, when his NAPA team returns to the winner’s circle. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event that will be televised by ESPN2 HD.
A three-time winner in four finals at the ultra-fast Kansas dragstrip, Capps feels confident returning to a track where he’s had success over the years. His most recent victory at HPT came in 2009, when he defeated Ashley Force Hood in the final.
“Topeka has always been a demanding track, especially in June,” said Capps, who has earned 31 victories in his NHRA career. “The (hot-weather) conditions make it tricky. You have to work well as a team to overcome a day of track temperatures in the 120s. When you can win at a track like this – which is a great facility with great people – it seems more gratifying at the end of the day on Sunday.”
It is also gratifying to know that you have outlasted an all-star field of competitors in the 7,000 horsepower category, including 15-time world champ John Force, two-time champ Cruz Pedregon, defending winner Hight, former drag racing instructor Jack Beckman who has won twice this season, and rising star Matt Hagan, among others.
“I’ve been racing Funny Car since 1997, and I keep saying it gets tougher and tougher each year,” Capps said. “You don’t roll into a race and have a goal of winning – you have to accomplish your first goal which is qualifying, regardless whether you are a 15-time champ or someone searching for your first championship, first you have to qualify. And thanks to the depth of the Funny Car category, there will be good cars which do not make the Countdown. So, the first goal for the season is getting into the Countdown since you have to be in it to win it.”
NHRA SUMMER NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 23rd annual NHRA Summer Nationals, the seventh of 22 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories - Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock - earn points leading to 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series world championships. NHRA is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011 and will pay tribute to the evolution of the hot rod and honor its legendary racers as well as the sport’s current stars.
WHERE: Heartland Park Topeka. From Kansas City, take the Kansas Turnpike (I-70) to the Topeka Boulevard exit and travel south to the track. From Wichita, take the Kansas Turnpike (I-335) to the Topeka Boulevard exit and travel south to the track.
Topeka has always been a demanding track ...
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, May 20-22
FRIDAY, May 20 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8 a.m.
FULL THROTTLE SERIES qualifying at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, May 21 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations begin at 8 a.m. \FULL THROTTLE SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, May 22 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
FULL THROTTLE SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, May 21, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 5:30 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, May 22, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage starting at 7 p.m. (ET).
2010 EVENT WINNERS: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Mike Edwards, Pro Stock.
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, 9, FC; Scott Kalitta, 6, TF; Warren Johnson, 5, PS; Cruz Pedregon, 4, FC; Greg Anderson, 4, PS.
Top Fuel – 3.785 seconds by Antron Brown, May ’10; 321.96 mph by Brown, May ’10.
Funny Car – 4.074 seconds by Robert Hight, May ’10; 310.70 mph by Hight, May ’10.
Pro Stock – 6.638 seconds by Mike Edwards, May ’10; 207.56 mph by Edwards, May ’10.
Top Fuel - 3.770 sec. by Larry Dixon, Feb. ’11, Pomona, Calif.; 327.03 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ’11, Pomona, Calif.
Funny Car - 4.011 sec. by Matt Hagan, Oct. ’10, Reading, Pa.; 316.38 mph by Ashley Force Hood, March ’10, Charlotte, N.C.
Pro Stock - 6.495 sec. by Rodger Brogdon, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.; 213.57 mph by Erica Enders, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call Heartland Park Topeka at (800) 43-RACES (72237). Tickets also available at www.HPT.com.
GENERAL ADMISSION (includes pit pass) - Friday: Adult, $35; Junior (6-12 years), $10. Saturday: Adult, $48; Junior (6-12 years), $10. Sunday: Adult, $48; Junior (6-12 years), $10.
RESERVED SEATS (includes pit pass) - Friday: Adult, $42-50; Junior (12 years and younger), $20-50; Saturday: Adult, $58-65; Junior (12 years and younger), $20-65; Sunday: Adult, $58-65; Junior (12 years and younger), $20-65.
NHRA FULL THROTTLE DRAG RACING SERIES POINT STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif. -- Point standings (top 10) following the sixth of 22 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series -
Top Fuel: 1. Del Worsham, 547; 2. Antron Brown, 477; 3. Larry Dixon, 468; 4. Tony Schumacher, 449; 5. Spencer Massey, 410; 6. Doug Kalitta, 342; 7. Shawn Langdon, 300; 8. Morgan Lucas, 295; 9. Brandon Bernstein, 284; 10. Terry McMillen, 247.
Funny Car: 1. Mike Neff, 496; 2. Jack Beckman, 476; 3. Robert Hight, 412; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 399; 5. Matt Hagan, 356; 6. Jeff Arend, 353; 7. John Force, 345; 8. Bob Tasca III, 330; 9. Ron Capps, 276; 10. Johnny Gray, 265.
Pro Stock: 1. Jason Line, 515; 2. Greg Anderson, 465; 3. Mike Edwards, 429; 4. (tie) Vincent Nobile, 420; Greg Stanfield, 420; 6. Rodger Brogdon, 374; 7. Erica Enders, 331; 8. Allen Johnson, 295; 9. Ron Krisher, 287; 10. Ronnie Humphrey, 265.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Karen Stoffer, 278; 2. Andrew Hines, 263; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 244; 4. LE Tonglet, 240; 5. Hector Arana, 197; 6. Gerald Savoie, 159; 7. Michael Phillips, 141; 8. Matt Smith, 140; 9. Shawn Gann, 136; 10. Jim Underdahl, 135.