Hall of Famer and six-time NHRA world champion Kenny Bernstein spent decades in the motorsports limelight. Known for his sales, marketing and promotional expertise, Bernstein partnered with Ford to bring the blue oval back to the forefront of auto racing in the 1980s when Ford, spearheaded by Edsel Ford II, and several performance enthusiasts, created the SVO group and returned to the “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” performance program that was so successful in the 1960s.
In reality, Bernstein’s love of the blue oval started at an early age. As a youngster he learned how to drive around his grandparents’ farm in Farwell, Texas, driving a 1952 Ford pickup. His first hot rod was a 1930 Ford Model A which he bought with money he earned working on weekends and holidays. Later he bought a 1952 Ford.
In his professional career, Bernstein, whose name transcends all forms of motorsports, campaigned LN 7 Funny Cars in 1982 and 1983 on the National Hot Rod Association and International Hot Rod Association circuits, and Ford Tempo Funny Cars from 1984 to 1986, catapulting Ford to the pinnacle of the NHRA arena and national publicity, when he won world championships in 1985 and 1986.
In 1984, Bernstein became the first to put a Funny Car in the wind tunnel. That Ford Tempo became the first to surpass the 260-mile-per-hour barrier on the quarter mile, won events on the NHRA and IHRA circuits and was the first Funny Car to carry an onboard computer system.
Bernstein drove the 1985 Ford Tempo to his first of six championships, set a national elapsed time record (5.569 seconds) for the quarter mile, won eight events on the NHRA and IHRA circuits and won a record 38 rounds of competition.
Also in 1985, Bernstein and Ford collaborated to debut the Super Team with Bernstein headlining a team that included four other drivers fielding a Ford in every class of NHRA racing with a body. The press announcement in Detroit created a great amount of publicity in the motorsports and automotive world for Ford and Motorcraft’s involvement with a team of this magnitude.
The Ford Tempo continued to dominate the NHRA circuit with Bernstein in the cockpit, surpassing the 270 mile-per-hour barrier and 5.50-second barrier for the first time in NHRA history, Bernstein continued to rack up victories and his second NHRA world championship.
In 1986, Bernstein bought a NASCAR and in 1987 he added an IndyCar team, becoming the first and only person to win with teams in the three major forms of motorsports: NHRA, NASCAR and CART (now IndyCar). During portions of his decade of ownership, he fielded Ford bodies and/or engines in NASCAR, the Indy 500 and CART. Drivers for the Indy team included the who’s who of motorsports: Johnny Rutherford, four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser, Jim Crawford, Roberto Guerrero, Scott Goodyear, Eddie Cheever, Davy Jones and Andreas Montermini.
In NHRA, Bernstein switched to the open cockpit Top Fuel category in 1990 where he continued to make history, becoming the first to surpass the 300 mile-per-hour barrier, earning him the nickname “King of Speed.”
In 1994, Bernstein’s CART driver Scott Goodyear drove to victory in the Marlboro 500 at Michigan International Speedway in a car powered by a Ford Cosworth.
His career as a driver and owner earned him recognition in the history books and he
has been inducted into all of motor racing’s most prestigious halls of fame in the United States.
Bernstein was voted in the top ten drivers in NHRA’s 50-year history in 2001. In 2005 he was named by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association of one of 12 nominees for the Newsmaker of the Half-Century award. Other nominees included Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt, A.J. Foyt, Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty, the Hulman-George family and five other well-known names in auto racing.
He has been inducted into the Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame (2006), the Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame (2007), the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (2009), and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2012) in Birmingham, Alabama.
Another of his great accomplishments was setting a watermark with sponsor Budweiser which he retained for his drag racing operation for 30 years.
Through his competitive years he was a media favorite regularly appearing on the front pages of the nation’s most read and respected newspapers and on local and national television shows and he was a guest on radio stations heard around the world.
Since retiring as a team owner in 2011, he continues to honor requests for interviews from media and continues to make appearances in conjunction with his motorsports celebrity.
Following is a chronological list of Bernstein’s career highlights.
1980: Debuted the Budweiser King Funny Car, beginning a sponsorship association that lasted an unprecedented 30 years
1983: Drove the Budweiser King Funny Car to victory in both the Big Bud Shootout and the U.S. Nationals during the same weekend, becoming the first to achieve that double win
1984: Became the first Funny Car driver to break the 260-mph barrier (260.11 mph), March 18 in Gainesville, Fla.
1985: Won the first of four consecutive NHRA Funny Car championships driving a Ford Tempo; founded King Racing NASCAR team. A glossy magazine, “Kenny Bernstein Explains Drag Racing” featuring the Ford Super Team was published.
1986: Won second NHRA Funny Car championship driving a Ford Tempo; became first to break the 5.50-second barrier (5.425 seconds, Sept. 26, Dallas); became first to break the 270-mph barrier in a Funny Car (271.41 mph, Aug. 30, Indianapolis)
1987: Won NHRA Funny Car championship for the third time; became first to break the 5.40-second barrier in a Funny Car (5.397 seconds, April 5, Dallas); won Big Bud Shootout for second time; founded King Protofab IndyCar team (later renamed King Motorsports)
1988: Won fourth consecutive and final NHRA Funny Car championship of career; earned first victory as a NASCAR team owner when Ricky Rudd prevailed in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
1989: Announced decision to move from Funny Cars to Top Fuel dragsters in 1990; earned second NASCAR win with Rudd at Sears Point (now Infineon Raceway) in Sonoma
1990: Debuted the Budweiser King Top Fuel dragster; earned third NASCAR victory with Brett Bodine in North Wilkesboro, N.C.
1991: Tied single-season record at that time for Top Fuel victories with six; earned the final spot in the Cragar 4-Second Club; became first driver to win both the Big Bud Shootout for Funny Cars and the Budweiser Classic for Top Fuel dragsters with Classic victory in Pomona
1992: Became first driver to break the 300-mph barrier (301.70 mph, March 20, Gainesville); was pole-winning and one-lap and four-lap speed record-setting owner at the Indianapolis 500 with driver Roberto Guerrero
1993: Became first driver to win 100 rounds in both Top Fuel and Funny Car; won Budweiser Classic specialty race for second time
1994: Became the first driver to break the 310-mph barrier with speed of 311.85 mph in semifinals and set NHRA national record of 314.46 mph at season-ending Finals in Pomona; earned first IndyCar victory as car owner when Scott Goodyear prevailed at Michigan Int'l Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. (victory made Bernstein first car owner to attain victories in each of the three major American auto racing series: NHRA drag racing, CART and NASCAR
1996: Won first NHRA Top Fuel championship and became first driver to win championships in both nitro categories
2001: Won sixth NHRA championship, second in Top Fuel; with son Brandon, became first father and son to win at the same NHRA national event in April at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; they doubled again in June at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago; voted one of top 10 drivers in NHRA’s 50-year history
2002: This season marked Bernstein’s Forever Red…A Run To Remember retirement tour; passed the keys to the company car to son Brandon
2003: In Brandon’s rookie season, Bernstein stepped back into cockpit after Brandon sustained season-ending back injuries from a crash in Englishtown; won four events to finish the season sixth after beginning to accrue points at 10th event of season
2004: Brandon returned to Top Fuel cockpit
2005: Named by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association as one of 12 nominees for the Newsmaker of the Half-Century award. In alphabetical order, the nominees were Mario Andretti, Bernstein, Dale Earnhardt, John Force, A.J.Foyt, the France family, Jeff Gordon, Dan Gurney, the Hulman-George family, Wally Parks, Roger Penske, and Richard Petty
2006: Inducted into Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame April 5 at Texas Motor Speedway; announced at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil that he would stage an NHRA comeback driving the Monster Energy Funny Car in 2007
2007: After one season in Funny Car, decided to step out of the cockpit; inducted into Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame
2009: Celebrated Budweiser/Bernstein 30th anniversary, the longest team/sponsor relationship in autosports history; also the final year of Budweiser sponsorship; inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Michigan (moved to Daytona Beach)
2010-11: Fielded a Top Fuel team for two seasons of Copart sponsorship
2012: Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Birmingham, Alabama
To inquire about the status of the Bernstein collection, please email the Darrell Gwynn Foundation at [email protected]
NHRA LEGEND KENNY BERNSTEIN DONATES PERSONAL RACING COLLECTION
TO DARRELL GWYNN FOUNDATION
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 10, 2012) Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein, appearing at Gainesville Raceway for a 20th anniversary celebration of his first-to-300 mph barrier-breaking run, announced that he is donating his personal treasure trove of racing collectibles and memorabilia to the Darrell Gwynn Foundation.
"Today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of what we consider our most important performance achievement, said Bernstein. It seems appropriate to add a little icing on the cake to today's festivities with an exciting plan we would like to share.
Since our retirement from the sport at the end of last season, my wife Sheryl and I have given a great deal of thought to the disposition of so many of the items we have saved that have defined our career, said Bernstein. After careful consideration, we felt that donating the collection to Darrells Foundation was a way for us to give back to an organization that is so deeply rooted in our sport.
We are absolutely honored that Kenny and Sheryl would think of us and donate this amazing collection of racing memorabilia to the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, said Gwynn. This will be a tremendous boost to our mission to support people with paralysis. Kenny has had a brilliant racing career and is one of the true legends of motorsports. Im just so touched by this gesture. Were looking forward to receiving the collection, cataloguing everything and making it available for sale to race fans and collectors worldwide later this year with the proceeds benefiting the Darrell Gwynn Foundation.
Our relationship with Darrell and his family goes back decades, continued Bernstein. We knew him as a teenager and remember him as our tall, lanky, mischievous Budweiser Top Fuel teammate in 1987 and 1988 when we were driving the Budweiser King Funny Car.
In 1990 we joined the entire NHRA fraternity as we held our collective breath after Darrell suffered life-threatening injuries in a vicious accident at Santa Pod Raceway in England.
As Darrell began to recover and returned to the U.S., we helped unite the NASCAR and NHRA stars for a benefit softball game to raise money to defray his medical expense. It was a magical evening and one of Darrells first public appearances after his accident. We remember the crowd cheering as Darrell threw out the first pitch and our NHRA team prevailed over the NASCAR boys in a tough battle.
When Darrell started his Foundation, once again the NHRA fraternity united to support its cause.
And the importance of Darrells Foundation hit home when Brandon sustained a severe back injury in Englishtown, N.J. in 2003. We thank the Lord above that Brandon made a full recovery, but all of us in the racing industry know many who have not been so fortunate.
We have watched Darrell evolve from a feisty teenager to the man he is today and it seems our lives have often intersected. We are proud of what he and his Foundation have accomplished through the years.
NHRA drag racing has given the Bernstein family so much and in our farewell salute we feel a sense of gratification knowing that the legacy we built in this sport that we loved so much is being passed along to help those who really need assistance. It would be a blessing to see Darrell, and others who have sustained similar injuries, walk again.
Its fitting that we would make this announcement at Gainesville Raceway, a landmark track for both of us. Besides being the site of our 300 mile-per-hour achievement, it is the track where Darrell scored his 18th Top Fuel and final career
victory in 1990.
Following Bernsteins announcement that he was retiring from the sport (Nov. 15, 2011), he and Sheryl worked diligently through the winter opening boxes of memorabilia and sorting through treasures that had been stored away for decades.
We relived many of the highlights of our career as we opened packages of long-forgotten items we had stashed away for the defining moment when we would hang up the last fire suit, helmet, and lock the front door to our racing operation, said Bernstein. That day has come.
The Bernstein collection, consisting of historic fire suits, helmets, championship Funny Car and Top Fuel bodies, winners jackets, die cast and very personal one-of-a-kind items currently housed in California, will soon be moved to the Darrell Gwynn Foundations facility in Florida.
To inquire about the status of the Bernstein collection, please email the Darrell Gwynn Foundation at [email protected]
Please send correspondence to Brandon Bernstein at:
Morgan Lucas Racing
480 Southpoint Circle,
Brownsburg, IN 46112
Or email [email protected]
KENNY BERNSTEIN RETIRES FROM NHRA DRAG RACING
LAKE FOREST, Calif. (Nov. 15, 2011) Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein has turned the final page and closed the book on his career as a competitor and NHRA racing team owner.
My wife Sheryl and I have come to a place in our lives where we want to pursue other interests, said Bernstein. We have poured our hearts and souls in motorsports for over 30 years and thats a full time job. It consumes you and there is very little time to relax.
We are very proud of our accomplishments through the years and its been a great ride, but were interested in being able to travel at will, we want to spend some time on the golf course, and weve recently taken up fly fishing, which we really enjoy.
Its time to enjoy life while we still have our health.
Kenny, Brandon, Sheryl and team are a first-class organization. We have enjoyed our partnership over the past two seasons, said Jay Adair, CEO of Copart. We wish Kenny and Sheryl the best in retirement.
Copart was supportive of our decision and were very grateful to CEO Jay Adair and President Vinnie Mitz for giving us their blessing and allowing us to step away from the sport, continued Bernstein. The Auto Club Finals at Pomona this past weekend was our final run.
We cant say enough about the close association and rapport we have built within the Copart organization. In the two years we have worked with them, they have made us feel like family. We were very proud and honored to have flown their colors and represented them.
Theres certainly a great deal of sadness in coming to terms with the end of an era and some concern about whether or not you can run a life at 300 mph and then come to a sudden stop, but Sheryl and I gave this a tremendous amount of thought before we came to our final decision. Brandon was also a part of the decision-making process and we are going to do everything we can to help him find a position with another team. Brandon lives and breathes the day-to-day demands and understands the endless hours of effort that we poured into the team. Brandon wanted what was best for Sheryl and me at this stage of our lives. He was totally selfless.
We owe a debt of gratitude to all the team members who have worked for us through the years as well as the sponsors who have supported us. We certainly want to salute the fans who have cheered us on and given us encouragement through the past three decades. And we appreciate all the media coverage through the years. We have made some great friends on all sides of the spectrum and were grateful for that.
We salute the late great NHRA founder Wally Parks, who was a dear friend and gave us an arena in which to live out our dreams. We are fortunate to have had a job that we loved and without Wallys vision, its hard to say where our lifes path would have led.
For a youngster that grew up in Texas dreaming about cars and reading Hot Rod magazine, we were able to live the dream.
For the near term, we are looking forward to our induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (May 3, 2012) in Talladega, Ala. alongside John Force and Richard Childress.
Thanks again to all those who have touched our lives. We are walking away with a treasure chest full of memories.
Team owner and six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein is a gifted driver and businessman. He holds the unique distinction of being the first and only race team owner to have collected wins in each of Americas three major motorsports series: NHRA drag racing, NASCAR, and CART (IndyCar).
He earned the title King of Speed when he became the first NHRA driver to break the 300 miles-per-hour barrier March 20, 1992 in Gainesville, Fla.
In May of 1992 his IndyCar with driver Roberto Guerrero sat on the pole of the Indy 500.
Bernsteins association with Budweiser lasted for 30 years, setting the watermark as the longest-running sponsorship in the history of auto sports. During his driving career he won 69 NHRA national events, four consecutive Funny Car championships (1985-1988) along with two Top Fuel championships (1996 and 2001). He was also voted in the top 10 on NHRAs 50 Greatest Drivers list.
As a team owner he has accumulated 18 Top Fuel victories with son Brandon at the wheel.
Following is a chronological list of Kenny Bernsteins career highlights. For a more detailed list, please visit www.kennybernstein.com.
1966 Supported a Top Fuel drag racing hobby which included several
victories on the Texas Pro Fuel Circuit, by selling high fashion womens
1974 Abandoned his racing hobby to focus on the Chelsea Street Pub
Restaurant chain he founded with Randy Pumphrey in Lubbock, Texas
1978 Returned to racing in mid-season with the Chelsea King Funny Car.
1979 Won his first NHRA national event, the Cajun Nationals in Baton
1980 Debuted the Budweiser King Funny Car, beginning a sponsorship
association that lasted an unprecedented 30 years
1983 Drove the Budweiser King Funny Car to victory in both the Big
Bud Shootout and the U.S. Nationals during the same weekend,
becoming the first to achieve that double win
1984 Became the first Funny Car driver to break the 260 mile-per-hour
barrier (260.11 mph), March 18, Gainesville, Fla.
1985 Won the first of four consecutive NHRA Funny Car Championships
Founded King Racing NASCAR team
1986 Won his second NHRA Funny Car Championship
Became the first to break the 5.50-second barrier (5.425 seconds,
Sept. 26, Ennis, Texas)
Became the first to break the 270 mph barrier in a Funny Car
(271.41 mph, Aug. 30, Indianapolis)
1987 Won the NHRA Funny Car Championship for the third time
Became the first to break the 5.40-second barrier in a Funny Car
(5.397 seconds, April 5, Ennis, Texas)
Won Big Bud Shootout for the second time
Founded King Protofab IndyCar team (later renamed King
1988 Won the fourth consecutive and final NHRA Funny Car Championship
of his career
Earned first victory as a NASCAR team owner when Ricky Rudd
prevailed at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
1989 Announced decision to move from Funny Cars to Top Fuel
dragsters in 1990
Earned second NASCAR win with Ricky Rudd at Sears
Point (now Infineon Raceway) in Sonoma, Calif.
1990 Debuted the Budweiser King Top Fuel dragster
Earned third NASCAR victory with Brett Bodine at North
1991 Tied the single season record at that time for Top Fuel
victories with six
Earned the final spot in the Cragar 4-Second Club
Became the first driver to win both the Big Bud Shootout
for Funny Cars and the Budweiser Classic for Top Fuel
cars with Classic victory at Pomona, Calif.
1992 Became the first driver to break the 300 mph barrier (301.70
mph, March 20, Gainesville, Fla.)
Was pole-winning and one-lap and four-lap speed record-setting
owner at the Indianapolis 500 with driver Roberto Guerrero.
1993 Became the first driver to win 100 career rounds in both Top
Fuel and Funny Car
Won the Budweiser Classic for second time
1994 Became the first driver to break the 310 mile-per-hour barrier
with speed of 311.85 mph in semifinals and set NHRA national
record of 314.46 mph in season-ending Finals at Pomona, Calif.
Earned first IndyCar victory as a car owner when Scott Goodyear
prevailed at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.
This victory made Bernstein the first car owner to attain victories
In each of the tree major American auto racing series: CART,
NASCAR and NHRA drag racing.
1996 Won first NHRA Top Fuel Championship and became first driver to
win championships in both nitro categories
2001 Won sixth NHRA Championship, second in Top Fuel
With son Brandon, became the first father and son to win at
the same NHRA national event in April at The Strip at Las
Vegas Motor Speedway. They doubled again in June at
Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill.
Voted in the top 10 drivers in NHRAs 50-year history
2002 This season marked Bernsteins Forever RedA Run To
Remember retirement tour
Bernstein passed the keys to the company car to son Brandon
2003 Brandons rookie season.
Kenny stepped back into the cockpit after son Brandon sustained
season-ending back injuries from a crash in Englishtown, N.J.
Kenny won four events to finish the season sixth in point standings
after beginning to accrue points in the 10th event of the season.
2004 Brandon returned to the Top Fuel cockpit
2005 Named by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters
Association as one of 12 nominees for the Newsmaker of the Half-
Century award. In alphabetical order the nominees were: Mario
Andretti, Kenny Bernstein, Dale Earnhardt, John Force, A.J.Foyt,
the France family, Jeff Gordon, Dan Gurney, the Hulman-George
family, Wally Parks, Roger Penske and Richard Petty.
2006 Inducted into the Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame April 5 at a
Gala at the Texas Motor Speeddway
Announced at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals that he would stage
an NHRA comeback driving the Monster Energy Funny Car in 2007
2007 After one season driving the Monster Energy Funny Car, Kenny
made the decision to step out of the cockpit
Inducted into the Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame
2009 Celebrated Budweiser/Bernstein 30th anniversary, the longest team/
Sponsor relationship in autosports history. Also the final year of
2010-11 Two seasons of Copart sponsorship
Copart, founded in 1982, provides vehicle sellers with a full range of remarketing services to process and sell salvage and clean title vehicles to dealers, dismantlers, rebuilders, exporters and, in some states, to end users. Copart remarkets the vehicles through Internet sales utilizing its patented VB2 technology. Copart sells vehicles on behalf of insurance companies, banks, finance companies, fleet operators, dealers, car dealerships and others as well as cars sourced from the general public. The company currently operates 154 facilities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Salvage vehicles are either damaged vehicles deemed a total loss for insurance or business purposes or are recovered stolen vehicles for which an insurance settlement with the vehicle owner has already been made. For more information, or to become a member, visit www.copart.com.