New leader emerges in T.F. points

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   BRISTOL--After the sixth event in the NHRA Top Fuel division, Brandon Bernstein has taken a 20-point lead, heading out of Bristol, over the defending series champion Larry Dixon.
   "It just shows you what kind of a team this really is, and all of the guys are doing a just a tremendous job, but that blue car is still going to be there trust me," said Bernstein.
   The Budweiser/Lucus Oil Top Fuel driver inherited the seat behind the wheel, after his legendary father Kenny Bernstein retired last season.
   In only his sixth start, Brandon has already won three of the events he has entered.
   "He's told me before to keep focus and keep doing your thing, and have confidence in your crew chief and team, and they'll make it run right down there," Bernstein said. "That's what happened."
   Brandon is definitely well on his way in living up to the Bernstein name, and a jump to the top spot in the points is just a beginning of the talent he possesses.
   "It's a great feeling to be in the points lead, and it shows you what kind of team we really have," said Brandon.
   The weekend started to shine bright for the series newest competitor on Saturday, when he set the best mark in qualifying with a time of 4.530 and the speed of 328.38.
   "I can't say enough about this place," Bernstein said. "It's pretty awesome and I got a win out of it, so the facility is very nice."
   Bernstein's day at Bristol on Sunday did not go that well early on, as he had trouble in getting the car hooked up to the racing surface.
   "We struggled most of the day with a lot of tire smoke and peddling, but when it came to the final round we made an adjustment and went the right way for it worked perfectly," said Bernstein.
   Fortunately, no one else that competed against him in the early rounds could figure out the slick track.
   When it counted though, Bernstein rolled off the best time of the evening with a time of 4.625 and a speed of 320.13 mph defeating former six-time IHRA Bristol winner Doug Herbert.
   "I hadn't really been in that situation before, but to be able to go out there and do what my instincts told me and feel the car," said Bernstein.
   It wasn't until the final run that Bernstein was able to post a time under five seconds, but it was all he needed to grab the 2003 MAC Tools Thunder Valley event and the points lead.
   "Today was really a turning point for me, and in my driving style I was able to feel those things and able to react in the right way." said Bernstein.
   Things were not so good for the previous points leader and defending Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon.
   "This weekend is so aggravating," he said. "This was only the second time this year that we have smoked the tires, and we had so many good runs, but we just missed it."
   The driver of the sponsored Miller Lite Top Fuel dragster had an unforgettable weekend, which started with a spectacular crash in qualifying on Saturday.
   "Hey, beating and banging at Bristol is what you all like to talk about, right," said Dixon.
   Dixon escaped unhurt in the accident, and this forced him to a back-up car, but his crew was able to make the right adjustments once the track started changing.
   "We brought it out in the first round and it ran a .60 flat, so the car did what we wanted it to do, but once the track became hotter I think we missed the set-up," said Dixon.
   Having a 40-point advantage heading into this weekend, Dixon saw his lead evaporate in the second round, when he smoked the tires and Jim Head slipped past him for the upset.
   "I just went out and spun the tires immediately, and then he goes out quite a ways and he spins the tires, but he's got so much momentum built up at by that time, it doesn't matter," said Dixon.
   Dixon won last year's event at Bristol Dragway, but this season's outing was not what the defending champion had hoped for.
   Even though it was a disappointment for the 2002 winner, he is still optimistic in his chances of earning his second consecutive Top Fuel title.
   "There's more races to run, and if it was down to the last couple of races I still wouldn't be concerned," said Dixon. "Championships are won by the best team, driver, and car over 23 races, and somebody else can have a better race, but I still like my teams chances on the average."