Mar 6, 2014, 12:26 PM EDT
For the first time in more than 30 years, the name “Bernstein” will not be on the qualifying grid for next week’s NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
Legendary Kenny Bernstein, who became the first driver in NHRA history to exceed 300 mph at Gainesville in 1992, has been retired since 2007.
Long known as the Budweiser King because of a more than two-decade sponsorship with the noted brewery, the elder Bernstein was one of the greatest drivers not only of his time but also in overall NHL history.
He was particularly versatile, the only driver in NHRA annals to win multiple championships in both Funny Car and Top Fuel.
Bernstein’s son Brandon lost his ride after last season and continues to search for a new home for his driving talents. While he’ll be at the Gatornationals, he’ll be there in an unusual role: spectator.
Antron Brown, the 2012 NHRA Top Fuel champion, laments that the younger Bernstein won’t be behind the wheel in Gainesville.
“The Bernstein family has made a name for themselves at Gainesville,” Brown said. “Every time we used to go to Gainesville, you’d always see the big pictures of the white and red car with Budweiser all over it.
“It was the King of Speed’s track, The King of Speed. When Big Daddy (Don Garlits) retired, that was a Bernstein heritage track. It’s been in their heritage of the sport. Brandon is going to be there (but) he won’t be in a car, and Kenny’s retired now.
“So it’s definitely a part of our sport that is definitely missing. I hope Brandon gets back soon. He’s a great team manager, but we all know he belongs in a car.”
John Force, a record 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion and winningest driver in the sport, also would like to see the younger Bernstein back racing.
“Bottom line, we need him back in a Funny Car,” Force said. “We need that name back in a dragster. If I had an opening, if I got hurt and (daughter) Ashley didn’t come back because of her children right now, (Brandon would) be the first guy I’d call, not just that he’s a talented driver interview, but because (father Kenny was) one of the names that built this sport.”
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