|After a slow start to the season, Kenny, left, and Brandon Bernstein have their Copart/Lucas Oil dragster firing on all cylinders.
With a new sponsor to impress, it’s probably a bit of an understatement to say that the season didn’t get off to the start that either Kenny Bernstein or his son and driver, Brandon, had hoped for – three races into the 2010 season, the Copart/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster was in ninth place with just two round-wins.
Combine one of the most competitive drivers and owners in NHRA and the demand to impress a new sponsor with the undeniable fact that we live in an instant-gratification world, and you had the recipe for change.
Change for the sake of change can often produce an unwanted result, but in this case, Kenny made a move that certainly has paid dividends. He elevated Todd Smith to crew chief on the Copart/Lucas Oil dragster after the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, and it didn’t take long for things to click – in the last seven races, the Bernstein rail has been to two final rounds (Atlanta and Bristol) and four semifinals (Las Vegas 1, Madison, Englishtown, and Topeka), and in the last five races, it hasn't qualified lower than fourth.
“We made our best qualifying effort of the season at Raceway Park,” Bernstein said of the team's No. 2 in Englishtown. “We have every confidence we are on the cusp of a victory. We just need to roll the winning combination. We have a lot of momentum, and we’ve got a lot of racing to do. We [are in the midst of a stretch of seven races in eight] weeks, and we’ll be digging deep.”
The fourth race in that stretch, the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, will be run this weekend (June 24-27) at one of the most fan-friendly facilities on the circuit, Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk. The 13th event in the 23-race NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season will be televised by ESPN2HD.
Brandon needs to dig deep to his first few years on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series circuit, 2003 to 2006, to get back to the winner’s circle that has eluded him except in Richmond, Va., in 2009.
After opening his career with a 10-1 mark in final rounds, he has had the exact reverse record in his last 11 final rounds, including a pair of runner-up finishes at this weekend’s venue.
“We have been the bridesmaid the past two years,” said Bernstein. “It is a great accomplishment to get to the final round with the stiff competition in the Top Fuel class, but we are looking to take home the gold Wally trophy this year. Our Copart/Lucas Oil team is running consistent, very competitive numbers, and we’re a threat every time we pull to the starting line. We’re hungry for a win.”
It has been an interesting and unwelcome turn in final-round fortunes for Bernstein, who opened his career as one of the series' best closers and lately has been nothing but snakebit in final rounds. Overall, he is 18-16 in final-round appearances.
He’ll look to get that turned around this weekend, and a win might be enough to move him into the top five in the Top Fuel standings – he trails fifth-place Antron Brown by 47 points and fourth-place Doug Kalitta by 68 points.
Those two drivers will certainly be on Bernstein’s radar this weekend, as will points leader Larry Dixon and the Al-Anabi team and second-place Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army team because there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be in the mix late Sunday afternoon.
In Funny Car, 14-time world champ John Force enters the Norwalk event fresh off of his fourth win of the season to regain the top spot in the points standings in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. He is chasing his 15th series crown against a host of talented drivers, including teammates Ashley Force Hood and Robert Hight and Don Schumacher Racing’s Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman.
Edwards continues to have the car to beat in Pro Stock competition. The defending world champ has won eight of the first 12 races, and he has earned No. 1 qualifying positions at nine of the first 12 races. His biggest challengers include past world champs Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Greg Anderson and Allen Johnson, who holds down the No. 2 spot in the standings. Young Rickie Jones, coming off of a runner-up in Bristol to get back into the top 10, has proven to be a serious upset threat with his quick reactions in his Elite Motorsports Pontiac GXP.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana continues to lead the points standings despite being winless this season. And with the way that second-place Michael Phillips, resurgent Steve Johnson, and rookie LE Tonglet have been racing, that first win of 2010 won’t come easily for him.
• SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. June 25 and noon and 3:30 p.m. June 26. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. June 27.
• TICKETS: For tickets for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, call Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, 419-668-5555, or log on to www.tix.com.
• ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 7 p.m. ET Saturday, June 26. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise NHRA Race Day presented by Lucas Oil, a 30-minute race preview show, at 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday, June 27, and three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET.
• LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in several categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday, June 25, and eliminations begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, June 26, and continue Sunday, June 27.
• GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES: NHRA’s newest touring series will make its seventh start of the 10-race season at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. The series features some of the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition.