Bernstein earns 69th career NHRA victory at Auto Club NHRA finals Shirley Muldowney competes in final race of legendary career POMONA, Calif. -- Two of drag racing's legends raced off into the sunset Sunday at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona...
Bernstein earns 69th career NHRA victory at Auto Club NHRA finals
Shirley Muldowney competes in final race of legendary career
POMONA, Calif. -- Two of drag racing's legends raced off into the sunset Sunday at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway.
Kenny Bernstein earned his 69th career victory -- and fourth in the last five races -- in what may be his final start, while another of the sport's icons, Shirley Muldowney, deployed her famous pink parachutes for the final time in front of a standing-room only crowd.
"Last year was a bummer when I lost in the first round and thought it was my last race," said Bernstein, 59, who retired last season, but returned to the driver's seat this year when his son Brandon was injured in a crash at Englishtown, N.J. "This is the way you are supposed to go out, on a winning streak, like this. This is great. I am not going to say this is the last time (I will race). We know Brandon (Bernstein) will be in the Budweiser car next season. I can't say enough about Tim (Richards, crew chief) and this Budweiser crew."
Bernstein beat Scott Kalitta in a tire-smoking final round duel. Bernstein's Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster lost traction at the start, but he was able to put his years of driving experience to work and steer his machine to the finish line first in 6.039 seconds at 194.41. Kalitta's Jesse James/Mac Tools dragster also lost traction and limped across the finish line in 14.656 at 58.68.
"What a pass that one was," said Bernstein, who used a string of 4.5 second performances to defeat Clay Millican, Doug Kalitta and Cory McClenathan to advance to the final round. "I got sideways so many times I lost count. I do remember that at one point I thought I was going to crash. I'm thinking, 'Oh, this will be a great way to end your career. Lose the final because you crashed.' I just couldn't get the car to hook up. The moment I hit the throttle it would spin the tires."
While Bernstein is committed to "never say never" regarding his future as a driver, three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Muldowney's 30-year career came to a close when she lost in the second round to Cory McClenathan. She defeated Paul Romine in the opening round and appeared to be on her way to a magical day. As it ended, she was satisfied with a magical career.
"We went out to Cory Mac, who is a great guy and a great driver," said Muldowney, the first female to win a major auto racing championship in 1977. "I have so many great memories. The thing I am most proud of is the style in which we won our national events and world championships. I know what it is like to come down to the wire and go into the last race of the year with a championship on the line, and that is the feeling that every driver wants. This (weekend) has been a wonderful opportunity to spend time with my friends of the last 25 years. It was a little hectic, but there wasn't too many distractions. All I can say is that it's been a great ride."
Del Worsham, Greg Anderson and Craig Treble also were winners at the $1.7 million race, the final of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series for 2003.
Worsham earned his third Funny Car victory of the season and 14th of his career in an unpredictable finish. Worsham fouled at the start in his Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird, but his final round opponent, Cory Lee, crossed the center-line in his Artisan Entertainment Firebird and gave the victory to Worsham by virtue of the worse rules infraction.
"I just lost my mind when I found out that I won," Worsham said. "I knew I red-lit. Then I heard on the radio that I had won. That's a hell of a way to win a race. I've won races a lot of ways, but never that way."
Anderson completed his dream season in Pro Stock by earning a record 12th victory of the season and in the process claiming his 67th eliminations round win. Anderson powered his series championship winning Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am to a 6.735 at 204.88, to outrun rival Kurt Johnson, who posted a 6.749 at 205.26 in his ACDelco Chevy Cavalier.
"That's the way to cap it off," Anderson said. "Now we can party. What a year. That's the perfect way to end the perfect season."
Treble earned his seventh career victory and second of the season in Pro Stock Bike in a battle of Suzukis when Angelle Savoie fouled at the start.
"This feels awesome," Treble said. "I can't say enough about Vance and Hines. I owe everything to them. What a day."
Larry Dixon (Top Fuel); Tony Pedregon (Funny Car); Anderson (Pro Stock) and Geno Scali (Pro Stock Bike) will be honored for earning NHRA POWERade Series championship titles Monday evening at 7 p.m. (PT) at the NHRA Awards ceremony at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.