Bernstein at No. 6 in NHRA countdown

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

    It's hard to imagine that a legend might begin in a small garage in Texas, but it was in just such a place that drag racing's "King of Speed," Kenny Bernstein, set out on a journey that resulted in him becoming one of the sport's true legends capturing five season titles and 60 career quarter-mile wins.
   He started out driving Top Fuel dragsters for many teams in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In those early years, his only major success was a runner-up finish to Don Schumacher at the 1973 Winternationals in the Engine Masters Dodge.
   Frustrated by his inability to be competitive against the top teams, Bernstein elected to wash his hands of racing at the end of 1973. However, drag racing eventually lured him back.
   When it comes to the business of the sport, no one has ever done it better than Bernstein. The business-savvy Bernstein even parlayed a race postponement into the Budweiser sponsorship that has endured for 22 years, the longest such alliance in motorsports.
   When rain delayed the 1979 Cajun Nationals, he quickly concocted an opportunity for a sponsorship pitch to Anheuser-Busch management at the company headquarters in St. Louis. He hustled his race transporter from Louisiana to Missouri so it and the car would be on display when the brewer's employees reported to work. Bernstein's bold maneuver, and his accompanying presentation, earned him the Budweiser sponsorship.
   Despite this, his on-track successes were only moderate until 1984 when crew chief Dale Armstrong made some innovations with wind-tunnel testing on the Budweiser King Funny Car.
   Body configurations that led to the first 260-mph Funny Car speed at the 1984 Gatornationals. For the class, it was the proverbial "shot heard 'round the world."
   While busy pounding the Funny Car competition in the mid-1980s, Bernstein spawned a series of new ventures to expand his racing portfolio. He became the first and only team owner to win races in America's three largest motorsports series: NASCAR, NHRA, and IndyCar.
   In 1990, Bernstein left the Funny Car category, along with Don Prudhomme, for the challenge of Top Fuel dragsters. One of Bernstein's most celebrated accomplishments was on March 20, 1992, during qualifying for the Gatornationals. On that date, Bernstein punched through the previously unexplored 300-mph barrier with a historic 301.70 blast that rocked the drag racing world.
   Heralded as the sport's "King of Speed," Bernstein gave further credence to the title by becoming the first to break the 310-mph barrier. He currently holds the speed mark at 332.18.
   In 1996, Bernstein became the first to win Winston championships in both fuel categories when the four-time Funny Car champion claimed his first Top Fuel title.
   Moving to the present, Bernstein is in hot pursuit of a second Top Fuel title, maintaining a 78-point lead in the Winston point standings over Larry Dixon as the NHRA heads into its final race at Pomona.
   Thanks to Anthony Vestal of the NHRA for the Bernstein profile.