Brandon Bernstein saved his best for last Sunday during the 26th annual Lucas Oils NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
The defending champion clicked off the fastest time of the day in his Budweiser Top Fueler, 4.525 seconds, to drive around Larry Dixon's SkyTel dragster, 4.586. Dixon had the better reaction time .056 to .085. The margin of victory was 3/100th of a second or about 15 feet.
Bernstein, who won his fifth final this season, said he knew facing an old rival like Dixon was going to be tough. Dixon, a two-time winner at BIR, piloted a Miller dragster for several years. This is Bernstein's third victory over Dixon this season and owns a 14-5 career record over him.
"I just wanted to make sure I stayed close enough to him to get the win," Bernstein said. "I never even saw him. I didn't hear him or anything to be honest."
Brandon Bernstein (left) was congratulated by John Force at the finish line after Bernstein won the Top Fuel final with an elapsed time of 4.525, reaching 329.91 mph, over Larry Dixon. Force won the Top Fuel funny car final with an elapsed time of 4.794, reaching 316.6 mph, beating Kenny Bernstein at the NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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Both racers also ran 4.50 times in the last three rounds.
Bernstein was probably a little bit distracted heading into his final. He watched the replay of his father Kenny get edged by John Force in a very close Funny Car final on the top-end jumbo tron.
"I was so bummed that my dad didn't get the win," said Bernstein.
Bernstein, whose five wins is a career high, admitted his reaction times were not good in his first and second round wins.
There also were two huge upsets in the first round. Melanie Troxel defeated reigning points leader Rod Fuller, who lost traction at mid track, and Cory McClenathan took out No. 1 qualifier Tony Schumacher, who also lost traction early.
Bernstein credited the tune ups by his team for his success in the last two rounds.
Brandon Bernstein launched his Budweiser Top Fueler from Brainerd International Raceway's dragstrip Sunday en route to winning the final in 4.525 seconds at 329.91 mph. He defeated Larry Dixon, who clicked off a pass of 4.586 at 323.35 mph. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
He said his crew chief Tim Richards is amazing to watch and he gets a little bit better and better each run.
Brandon's win also was special. It was at BIR that the late Eric Medlen won his first Funny Car victory in 2004. Medlen died four days after crashing into the wall earlier this year during testing in Gainesville, Fla.
Brandon said he can remember celebrating the victory with Medlen at a local restaurant for several hours.
"It was just something special, we bonded together so much more," he said.
Bernstein defeated Doug Herbert in the first round, Clay Millican in the second round and Morgan Lucas, who won the most rounds this season, in the semifinals.
The key: Budweiser's Brandon Bernstein edged SkyTel's Larry Dixon to win the Top Fuel title for the second straight year at BIR.
Dixon defeated Doug Kalitta in the first round, Cory McClenathan in the second round and Melanie Troxel in the semifinals.
Troxel, who also won the second round, is now only two points behind eighth-place David Grubnic in the Countdown to the Championship (she was 45 points back coming to the event).
Vandergriff became the sixth Top Fuel racer to lock-up a spot in the Countdown to the Championship field, leaving just two slots left. There are seven drivers vying for those final two positions now held by Whit Bazemore and Grubnic.
CLINT WOOD may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5870.
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