Luck was with 50-somethings John Force and Kenny Bernstein at the 21st annual Rugged Liner NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway Sunday.
Force, 53, won his 103rd career Funny Car race, 10th at BIR, despite basically "trashing" his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Bernstein, 57, won the Top Fuel final despite losing a cylinder in his Budweiser King dragster engine.
Force defeated teammate Gary Densham, 5.405 to 6.929. It was the third time Force defeated Densham at BIR, his second consecutive national event win and fifth of the season.
Bernstein, on his Farewell Red Tour, defeated arch nemesis Larry Dixon in his Miller Lite dragster, 4.830 to 5.410, to win his fourth final this season. It was his 35th career Top Fuel victory, 65th in his career, and second Top Fuel win at BIR. He also won in Funny Car at BIR twice.
This also was Bernstein's second win to Dixon's four in their matchups this season. Bernstein narrowed Dixon's NHRA Series points lead by 80 points with the win.
For Force this season, Densham had won both finals before this "ugly" tire-smoking battle.
"I think it pays $40,000 here to win, something like that, and I was pretty close to dumping it on the ground," Force said. "I didn't get any oil on the ground so I didn't lose any points but, yeah, it came apart."
"It was trying to fly. I mean it rattled for like 400 feet but it was trucking so it was really grabbing hold and then all of sudden it let go. I was coasting into the lights."
John Force launched his Ford Mustang Funny Car from Brainerd International Raceway's starting line on his way to winning the title at the NHRA Nationals Sunday. It was his 103rd career victory. (Dispatch Photo by Clint Wood)
To make matters worse, Force had to hit the fire bottles because his car was on fire near the top end. He had to let off the gas to stop from spinning the tires and leaving oil on the track.
"I felt it nosing over and I thought, 'OK, he'll come by me,' and then all of sudden it lit up inside," he said.
Force also was lucky in the second round when Dean Skuza had a foul start. Force took out Scotty Cannon in the first round and Bruce Sarver in the semifinals.
Densham took out Frank Pedregon in the first round, Whit Bazemore in the second and teammate Tony Pedregon in the semifinals.
Bernstein said by the first 300 feet in the final he was in serious trouble when he lost the cylinder (horsepower equivalent to a NASCAR Winston Cup racer). He said that his crew chief, Tim Richards, had his car tuned to run an elapsed time of 4.6 like he did in the semifinals.
"The Clydesdale horseshoe kind of stayed around us a little bit today," Bernstein said. "I kept looking and waiting for him to go blowing by me because I knew we weren't running worth a dag gone."
Bernstein said his car wasn't going anywhere by the first 300 feet.
"I was surprised he wasn't already past me," Bernstein said.
He took out John Smith, who foul started in the first round, Cory McClenathan in the second and top qualifier Doug Kalitta in the semifinals.
Dixon took out Luigi Novelli in the first round, Darrell Russell in a tire-smoking pedaling battle in the second and Tony Schumacher in the semifinals.
Bernstein has never been a runner-up at BIR.
For Force, it was his 293rd consecutive start on the tour, a Funny Car division record.
* Cy Chesterman won the Top Alcohol Funny Car final, his 13th career national event victory at 6.022. He defeated a tire-shaking Kirk Williams, who was competing in his first national event final, at 8.197.
* Arthur Gallant clicked off his best elapsed time ever, 5.317, in winning the Top Alcohol Dragster Final. Runner-up Shelly Howard had a time of 5.563.
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