Bernstein rocks Thunder Valley

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   BRISTOL -- The Kid rocks.
   Brandon Bernstein survived three imperfect runs, saving his best run for the finals when he beat Doug Herbert to win the Top Fuel class at the 2003 NHRA Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals Sunday at Bristol Dragway.
   "I feel real lucky after the first three rounds," said Bernstein. "The first round especially, I banged the blower. I was hoping that finish line would come quicker and it wasn't. I was tire smoking and pedaling. Then (crew chief) Tim Richards made an adjustment before the final round and it worked perfectly."
   Bernstein, a rookie on the NHRA Powerade tour, scored his third win of the season. He accomplished something his famous father Kenny never did in scoring a win at Bristol.
   "That's kind of cool," replied Bernstein, when informed of that news. "I like to follow in what he does, so that's kind of neat."
   Herbert was hoping to score his first career NHRA win at Bristol to go along with six wins, he scored on the IHRA tour at the dragway from 1992-'97.
   "We were feeling pretty confident going into the finals, but when they need to get down the track they do," said Herbert about the Bernstein team. "We don't know exactly what happened. Our car started spinning the tires a little bit. Why it waited all day to do it, I don't know."
   Early round action was highlighted by the exit of defending race and series champ Larry Dixon in the Miller Lite dragster. After escaping from a fiery crash unhurt in qualifying on Saturday, Dixon won his first round event against the Bristol-based Carrier Boyz Racing team.
   His luck would run out in the quarterfinals, when he was eliminated by Jim Head.
   "I hated losing a car like I did Saturday," said Dixon. "We brought the back-up car out today and it was the first run we had on it. We set it up to run a .58 to .61 and it did exactly what it was suppossed to do.
   "As the track got hotter, we just missed the set-up. That was when I spun the tires on the last pass. He also spun the tires, but he had so much momentum built up, it was hard to catch him."
   Another big upset early on happened when Tennesseean Clay Millican benefitted from 2001 race winner Doug Kalitta redlighting at the starting line.
   If the luck was not on their side, it definitely was on Bernstein's side, who smoked the tires in wins over Josh Starcher, Cory McClenathan and Darrell Russell.
   Bernstein climbed atop the points standings with the event win, marking the first time in 28 races that Dixon wasn't on top.
   With the weekend at Bristol, Bernstein has now accomplished being a national event winner, a No. 1 qualifier and becoming a track record holder. Some joked all he has to do is win the U.S. Nationals and the championship this year and he can retire with a full resume at the end of the season.
   "It feels good to be on top of the points, but that just shows what kind of team we have," said Bernstein. "I can't say enough about this team, but Larry Dixon's and Prudhomme's team are going to be there. They are an awesome team and they are going to bounce back."