NHRA legends Bernstein, Force welcomed into International Motorsports Hall of Fame
Thursday, May 03, 2012
NHRA legends Kenny Bernstein and John Force were formally inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame Thursday evening during a black-tie gala event at the Speed Channel Dome adjacent to Talladega Motor Speedway. Bernstein and Force joined famed NASCAR team owner Richard Childress as the only members of the heavyweight class of 2012.
Harold Hinson photos
From left, Kenny Bernstein, Richard Childress, and John Force were inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame May 3.
The NHRA icons were the 10th and 11th NHRA inductees into the prestigious Hall, which features among its members a distinguished roster of deserving drivers from all segments of motorsports, including Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, and A.J. Foyt. The other NHRA inductees are Mickey Thompson (1990), Wally Parks (1992), Don Garlits (1997), Don Prudhomme (2000), Shirley Muldowney (2004), Joe Amato (2005), Bob Glidden (2005), Warren Johnson (2007), and Bill Jenkins (2008).
Bernstein was not only a gifted driver, but also a pioneering businessman in the world of motorsports, headlined by his 30-year sponsor relationship with Budweiser. He remains the only race team owner to have collected wins in each of America’s three major motorsports series: NHRA, NASCAR, and CART (IndyCar).
“The festivities surrounding the International Motorsports Hall of Fame are fabulous, and we couldn’t be any more proud and honored to now be a member of this elite group of motorsports luminaries,” Bernstein said. “In 1979 in an NHRA event in Baton Rouge, La., John Force and I faced off in the final Funny Car round. It was one of the first times either of us had made it to a final round, and here we were racing each other. It’s ironic that 33 years later, we are both standing on this stage for this momentous occasion. If you had asked me in 1979 where we saw ourselves in 33 years, we never would have guessed our path would have led us here. John has been a good friend for all these years, and we’re pleased to have reached this destination together.”
Bernstein, a six-time NHRA world champion, earned 69 event victories and became the first to win world titles in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. He earned the title “King of Speed” after becoming the first driver to break the 300-mph barrier in Gainesville, Fla., in 1992. Bernstein retired from NHRA as a team owner at the end of last season.
“It’s also an honor to share the stage with Richard Childress,” said Bernstein, who was presented for induction by NHRA announcer Bob Frey. “We were first introduced in 1980 by R.J. Reynolds motorsports boss Ralph Seagraves when Richard and Dale Earnhardt sewed up a championship at Riverside International Raceway. When we began fielding a NASCAR team several years later, Richard was the man who was always available to help me and give me direction, and for that we have been eternally grateful. It’s great to reconnect with Richard tonight. My son, Brandon, who has been a part of our racing operation for many years, is here tonight along with our special guest Larry McReynolds, who was our NASCAR crew chief for many years. We are proud that they are here to share the evening with us. Lastly and most importantly, I want to thank my wife, Sheryl, for standing by my side and working shoulder to shoulder with me for the past three-plus decades. She has been responsible for a great deal of my success, and we couldn’t have done it without her.”
Force has dominated NHRA Funny Car racing since the early 1990s and owns NHRA records for victories (134), No. 1 qualifying positions (139), elimination round-wins (1,102), and world championship titles (15). In 1996, he was named Driver of the Year for all of motorsports and became the oldest NHRA champion in 2010 when at 61 he earned his most recent world championship title in a dramatic comeback effort. NHRA President Tom Compton presented Force for induction.
“You can’t talk about your career without leaving someone off of the list,” Force said. “I don’t want to miss anyone, but there are key people that helped me get into the Hall of Fame tonight, and one of the major people was Austin Coil. Without Austin, there is no way I am here tonight accepting this honor. I also have to thank my wife, Laurie, for putting up with me. I always tell people she loves me, but she just doesn’t like me. We used to sleep in the cab of a truck, and she did everything from writing my first contracts to most importantly raising our three amazing daughters: Ashley, Brittany, and Courtney.
“In the early days, my oldest daughter, Adria, would help out wherever she could, and now she and my son-in-law Robert Hight help me run this company. I still think back to the early days with Uncle Beavs and Dave Condit; we were a mess, but we loved to be at the track. I always wanted to be like Prudhomme and Garlits and Kenny. That was my dream, and to be here tonight just shows you what an old truck driver can do if he puts his mind to something and he has a lot of help from some really smart people.”
Force, who continues to be competitive into his mid-60s, recently won the 2012 season-opening O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries in Pomona, Calif., in his familiar Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang and sits in seventh place in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series points standings.
“Castrol has been with me almost this whole ride, and I am proud to represent them as well as Ford, AAA, Mac Tools, BrandSource, Traxxas, and Freightliner plus every sponsor that has ever been on my race car,” Force said. “We are all going into the Hall of Fame tonight. For the NHRA, this is big to have me and Kenny go in together, and I could not be prouder.
“I am so honored that it is hard for me to say how much this means to me. We have won a lot of races and championships, but I always just wanted to put on the helmet and hear the roar of the crowd. I am going to keep on racing until someone tells me I can’t do it anymore, and then I am going to go on tour. I also want to thank the media. They used to write stories about me just because I was crazy and caught on fire all the time. Thank you for every interview and every story. I have been a very lucky man, and I want to thank everyone at Talladega Motor Speedway for putting on this event.”