BERNSTEIN REVELS IN INDY 500 MEMORY

 

05_21-2011_rnstein How much does it mean to win the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 -- aside from the $100,000 prize?
 
Enough to bring an NHRA legend close to tears.
 
In 1992, Kenny Bernstein owned the Quaker State Lola-Buick Roberto Guerrero qualified on the pole with a four-lap, 10-mile average speed of 232.482 mph, then an Indianapolis Motor Speedway track record. Indy 500 qualifying is this weekend and the 100th anniversary of the first "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is scheduled for Sunday, May 29.
 
Even though Bernstein is a six-time champion, winner of 69 national events, and No. 6 on NHRA's 50 greatest drivers list, he rates the accomplishment VERY high on his personal list.
 
In the top 10?

 



How much does it mean to win the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 -- aside from the $100,000 prize?

1992-Guerrero-Dangler-Bernstein
Kenny Bernstein is flanked by John Dangler (left) and Roberto Guerrero after 1992 Indy 500 pole run. - Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo by Ron McQueeney

Enough to bring an NHRA legend close to tears.
 
In 1992, Kenny Bernstein owned the Quaker State Lola-Buick Roberto Guerrero qualified on the pole with a four-lap, 10-mile average speed of 232.482 mph, then an Indianapolis Motor Speedway track record. Indy 500 qualifying is this weekend and the 100th anniversary of the first "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is scheduled for Sunday, May 29.
 
Even though Bernstein is a six-time champion, winner of 69 national events, and No. 6 on NHRA's 50 greatest drivers list, he rates the accomplishment VERY high on his personal list.
 
In the top 10?
 
"It's more than that," Bernstein said last month at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway while observing work on son Brandon's Copart.com dragster. "You're not giving it the due justice that it was for me."
 
Guerrero's run came just weeks after Bernstein's historic first-to-300 mph qualifying pass at Gainesville, Fla. He also was fielding a car full-time on what was then NASCAR's Winston Cup series.
 
"That particular time of my life was a lot of fun," Bernstein continued. "I was spread in three areas, and about wore myself out, but it was still phenomenal. That particular stretch of time, from March until May, we accomplished two firsts for us that will never be repeated: The 300 mph and, for my team and my people, the pole at Indy."
 
Then -- perhaps surprising to drag racing fans -- Bernstein's voice began to crack and his eyes welled-up.
 
"This is a true story: I sat on the (pit) wall when it was done and said to myself, 'Holy cow, what is going on here? Here's a kid from west Texas and he's on the pole at the Indy 500! It gets to me today . . . It gets me today. It means that much. It's really special.
 
"And it even goes back further. In Lubbock, Tex., one particular weekend, a Sunday in May, I was working in my dad's store, unloading a truck with blankets to go upstairs, listening to the Indy 500. That says it all. That wasn't supposed to happen -- me being at the Indy 500 with my team on the pole. It's just a great memory."
 
On one of the coldest Indy race days in decades, Guerrero lost traction while trying to warm up his tires, and crashed on the pace lap.
 
Bernstein entered cars at the Brickyard starting in 1988,   using a Buick V-6 that enjoyed a substancial horsepower advantage under USAC's "stock block" engine rules. Reliability was an issue, however, and Jim Crawford produced the best finish -- sixth -- in Bernstein's Mac Tools Buick that year. In 1993, Bernstein put three Budweiser-backed Lola-Chevys in the 33-car lineup, driven by Al Unser, Crawford and Guerrero. Scott Goodyear piloted Bernstein's final Indy entry in 1994, using Cosworth power, but he completed only 29 of the 200 laps.
 
Of Indy's centennial, Bernstein says, "Who would imagine 100 years any more than you would imagine (NHRA's) 60 years of drag racing? It shows that it's a viable commodity that people want to see and watch and hear about. That's fantastic.
 
"It's had stature as high as you can imagine, and it's had lows, and it's had highs. So I think the accomplishment of 100 years is phenomenal. And, to this day, it's the greatest show in racing. It truly is, even though, when I think we were back there, it was better than it is now because of the competition. The bottom line is it's still a spectacle."
 
Another NHRA legend, 15-time Funny Car champion John Force, plans to attend his first Indy 500 and is bringing his Road Show to the Speedway.
 
"The Indy 500 does not need me or my Road Show to draw a crowd, I want to make that clear," Force explained. "I want to make NHRA a part of that."
 
He continued: "The Indy 500 gave us international exposure. It was an era when I was a kid from California and I could only drag race. But on Sunday, of the Indy 500, you ran to your TV to watch it. There's something about it, the Brickyard, only that one race captivates me.
 
"The first time I ever went to Indy for an NHRA drag race, I drove to see the Brickyard. I just wanted to stand there. I hear the echos. People don't because they're too busy talking. But even a guy like me shuts-up when something has meaning.

“It's like (when) Babe Ruth went to bat, that's when you stop and you show respect. And I've stood out in front and drank a cold beer and cried because I thought I had made it. I wanted to see that before I died."

 

 


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