St. Louis: Round seven preview

BERNSTEINS ADJUSTING TO "ROLLER COASTER" SEASON HEADING INTO ST. LOUIS MADISON, Ill. -- To say that the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has been a roller coaster up to this point would be an understatement. With high profile names not...

BERNSTEINS ADJUSTING TO "ROLLER COASTER" SEASON HEADING INTO ST. LOUIS

MADISON, Ill. -- To say that the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has been a roller coaster up to this point would be an understatement. With high profile names not qualifying for races, national records being set, and the death of a beloved driver, no one could have imagined that so much would have occurred in the first half of the season going into St. Louis for the 11th annual O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Castrol.

No one has seen this more then Kenny and Brandon Bernstein. Whether it's working to find the rhythm needed with a new Funny Car team, or struggling to compete each week after losing a close friend and fellow driver, both have had their ups and downs this season.

"It's been a roller coaster to say the least," Brandon said. "Going into Pomona we had such high hopes for the two teams and to go all the way to the final round (with the Budweiser Top Fuel dragster) was really exciting for all of us. But then to go to Gainesville and not qualify it was a big downer. And then with what happened to Eric (Medlen) in Gainesville, that was probably the lowest point of my life."

It was after a testing accident at Gainesville Raceway the Monday after the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals that the NHRA community lost Medlen, a promising young Funny Car driver. For Brandon, who was close friends with Eric, this was a tough blow.

"It's been a really trying time for me," Brandon said. "It was hard to go to Houston two weeks later and compete and even Las Vegas was really hard for me not having Eric there. But winning the event there for him was not only huge for me, but was a big step for the team as well."

Brandon says that though his focus this season has always been on winning the championship, winning it for Eric would make it even more special for him.

"Every season you're trying to win the championship and that's what our goal is this year," Brandon said. "This year it gives you an added sense of desire and a sense of want to get that championship so that you can look up into the sky and say 'this one's for you.' It just means a lot more when you have a friend that's gone and you can win it for him."

Coming into St. Louis with back-to-back wins at Las Vegas and Atlanta, Brandon says that winning there would be huge not only for him, but for his team as well.

"It would definitely mean everything to win there," Brandon said. "It's huge to win there because Budweiser (our sponsor) is located there. It's like a second home for us. That's our backyard, so to speak, and we want to win there bad."

Kenny Bernstein is also feeling the ups and downs of the 2007 season. Bernstein failed to qualify for the first two events of the season, after stepping out of retirement and into the seat of his Monster Energy/Lucas Oil Dodge Charger Funny Car. But Kenny says the struggles from the beginning of the season have not pulled him or the team down.

"Well I think in reality (the season) is going really well," Kenny said. "With the changes we've made with bringing in (new crew chief) Jimmy Walsh and the improvements we've seen since, I think things are going really well for us."

It was after the second race of the season in Phoenix that Kenny brought on long time Top Fuel dragster engine tuner Jimmy Walsh, an addition that Kenny says has strengthened his team ever since.

"It's been easy adjusting to Jimmy," Kenny said. "He's a great guy and a pleasure to be around. It just feels good and it's nice to see the program going the way that it is and I'm really excited about it.

Though he is competing in what some have called the most talented lineup in Funny Car history, Kenny feels that the team has made the adjustments needed each week to contend with the group.

"The Funny Car field has been extremely competitive for quite a while and we knew that coming into it," said Kenny. "It really has been a pleasure to be back and to be able to compete against these great drivers each week."

Though things have been up and down for both teams, Kenny says as long as they can continue building on the success they saw in Las Vegas with both teams (Kenny making it to the second round of Eliminations and Brandon winning the event) then he's confident that they'll see the success they're striving for.

"All we need to do is just learn from the success we had in Vegas and we'll be good," said Kenny. "I'm just happy with both our teams. Both crews are doing a great job on not only the Funny Car but the Top Fuel dragster as well."

Kenny will have plenty to compete with when the competitive Funny Car class heads to Gateway International Raceway. Drivers to watch include defending champion and NHRA legend John Force, Force's teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight who is coming off back-to-back wins at Las Vegas and Atlanta, last year's event winner Tony Pedregon and two-time event winner Ron Capps.

Brandon will see plenty of competition in the Top Fuel class, as three-time event winner Doug Kalitta will be heading out along with last year's event winner Tony Schumacher, and J.R. Todd, who won the season opener in Pomona as well as this year's Houston event.

Pro Stock will also be bringing a competitive field with Greg Anderson coming off back-to-back wins in Las Vegas and Atlanta, and Jason Line who won the event in Houston. Mike Edwards won the event in 2006.

Pro Stock Motorcycle will be making an appearance and expect to see a strong performance from Houston event winner Angelle Sampey as well as defending champion Andrew Hines. Chip Ellis is the defending event winner.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 and 6:30 p.m. on May 4, and 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on May 5. Pre-race ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. on May 6, followed by the first round of professional eliminations at 11 a.m.

TICKETS: For tickets, call Gateway International Raceway at (866) 35-SPEED. Tickets are also available at Ticketmaster or online at gatewayracing.com.

ON TV: On May 5, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying at 5 p.m. (ET). On May 6, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will broadcast NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) and televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET).

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Brandon Bernstein , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Chip Ellis , Robert Hight , J.R. Todd , Angelle Sampey , Mike Edwards