The King of Speed is back on his throne.
Kenny Bernstein, who earned the nickname after becoming the first NHRA driver to break the 300-mph barrier and is among the all-time leaders in almost every category including wins (fourth) and No. 1 qualifiers (fourth), returned to racing this season after a three-year layoff.
This season also marks the first time in 17 years that Bernstein has driven a Funny Car, a class he dominated when he won four straight titles. From 1990-2002 Bernstein raced in the Top Fuel category and won two championships.
The King of Speed will be behind the wheel of his Monster Energy Funny Car this weekend in the 26th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
Kenny Bernstein has six world championships (four Funny Car and two Top Fuel).
Bernstein pointed out that sliding into the driver's seat of a Funny Car after 17 years wasn't awkward in the least.
"It felt like putting on a good, old pair of shoes," he said. "Of course the cars are a lot quicker and faster now than they were when I left. But the experience and knowledge came back in a hurry.
"One thing I remember is how you have to manhandle a Funny Car and not try to finesse it like you do with a Top Fuel car. But it really didn't take me long to get the feeling back."
The past three years Bernstein has been on the sidelines watching his son Brandon drive a Budweiser Top Fuel dragster, as well as paying the bills for the Kenny Bernstein Racing team.
But the thrill of driving was just too much of a pull for Kenny to stay away.
Residence: Corona Del Mar, Calif.
Weight: 150 pounds
Family: Wife, Sheryl; son, Brandon
Category: Funny Car
Sponsor: Monster Energy/Lucas Oil
Crew chief: Jimmy Walsh
Career wins: 69 (30 Funny Car, 39 Top Fuel)
World championships: 6 (4 Funny Car, 2 Top Fuel)
Career-best elapsed time: 4.477 seconds
Career-best speed: 332.18 mph
Hobbies: Golfing, motorcycle riding, speed walking
"I love racing and I just missed it," said Bernstein. "The first year out of racing was extremely tough. I got to all the races, performed all the same duties and didn't have any of the fun, which is racing. Being just the owner wasn't enough to satisfy me right now. But it will someday."
Bernstein's team hasn't quite found its groove this season as it sits in 14th place in the points standings. But Bernstein has shown signs of life as he's made it to at least the semifinals in two of the last four races.
At the O'Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals July 6-8 in Bristol, Tenn., Bernstein made the finals before bowing out to Mike Ashley. Then at the Schuck's Auto Supply Nationals July 20-22 at Seattle, Bernstein reached the semifinals before losing to Jack Beckman.
"We struggled quite a bit to start out the season," Bernstein said. "We're a much better team right now than what the point standings show. Right now we're better than we have been but we know we have a long way to go. But at least we're in the game and that's encouraging."
When Monster Energy came to Bernstein he was quietly relieved they wanted him to drive a Funny Car and not a Top Fuel dragster for one obvious reason.
"I was actually pretty thankful that Monster Energy wanted a Funny Car because then I wouldn't have to compete against Brandon," he said.
One thing Bernstein does want to do is someday share the winners' circle with Brandon, a feat that's never been done in NHRA history.
"You really can't help but dream about it," Bernstein said of winning on the same day as Brandon. "I care just as much about that Bud car as I do about my Monster car. For us to both win on the same weekend, that'd be quite the trick to do."
TROY GUNDERSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5865.
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