Top Fuel Dragsters Take the Spotlight in Pomona
by NHRA Communications
TOP FUEL TITLE TO BE DECIDED AT AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS
POMONA, Calif. - The only thing Kenny Bernstein and Larry Dixon have in common is drag racing. That's about it.
Kenny drives the Budweiser King dragster. Larry drives the Miller Lite dragster. Kenny's car is red. Larry's car is blue. Kenny started racing in the 1960's. Larry just turned 35. Kenny has earned 60 national event wins en route to five Winston championships. Larry's highest finish in five previous seasons is the third place he claimed in his rookie year (1995).
Okay, so maybe they do have one thing in common - they both want to win the 2001 Winston NHRA Top Fuel championship. The title will be decided in dramatic fashion as the NHRA's 50th anniversary season, and the title, will be wrapped up during the 37th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Nov. 8-11, at historic Pomona Raceway. The $2.1 million race is the final of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Gary Scelzi is the defending champion in the Top Fuel category while John Force is the defending champion for Funny Car. Force has already clinched his 11th NHRA Winston championship - his ninth consecutive title.
With only four rounds of racing left, Bernstein has a 54-point lead over Dixon. There are a total of 138 points up for grabs in Pomona. In order to clinch, Bernstein must advance past the second round, and avoid costly oil-down penalties.
Dixon's path to the championship is very clear: he needs a victory, and an early round exit for Bernstein. Anything less will produce a second place points finish.
"Going into the last three races we were less than three rounds out," Dixon said. "So if we won all three races and Kenny went to the finals, it wouldn't have mattered because we would have passed him and (won) the title. Well, we did well at Dallas, but we didn't get it done (in Las Vegas). So now, we are relying on him to have some bad luck at the last race for us to even have a shot.
"Still, we have to go out and win. We can't control anything that goes on with them. We can just go into the last race and try and win and see what happens."
Bernstein has made a record tying 11 final round appearances this season, taking home seven trophies. Dixon has notched six wins, making nine final round appearances.
"It may appear that we have a little bit of breathing room, but it's still anybody's championship," Bernstein said. "The fans will get a good show at the final event with virtually two races, the Budweiser Shootout for Top Fuel dragsters on Saturday and the race for the championship on Sunday."
While Bernstein has the lead going into the final event, there is still a chance that Dixon could claim the Winston title. If Dixon wins the event, and Bernstein is ousted no later than the second round, Dixon can claim the title. That does not, however, take into account points being added for national records or points being deducted for oil downs.
"I am not quitting," Dixon said. "I am racing the next race to win. I race every race to win. Until they tell us that we are out of it, we're in it. So all you can do is go to the next event and try and win."
BERNSTEIN SEEKING THIRD BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT AT POMONA VICTORY
POMONA, Calif. -- Kenny Bernstein will seek his third Budweiser Shootout at Pomona victory on Nov. 10 as the special event's top seed. Bernstein, entering his 12th career Budweiser Shootout, won the lucrative bonus event in 1991 (def. Don Prudhomme) and 1993 (def. Eddie Hill). The winner of the 17th annual Budweiser Shootout at Pomona will earn $100,000. In addition, the Shootout winner is eligible to win a $50,000 "double-up" bonus from NHRA if he wins the 37th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals on Nov. 11.
The Budweiser Shootout at Pomona showcases the eight Top Fuel drivers who accumulated the most qualifying points during the 2001 Budweiser Shootout series, beginning with the 2000 Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals and ending at the 2001 ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas.
Budweiser, the Official Beer of the NHRA, provides an overall purse of $147,000 for the eight drivers who have qualified for the Budweiser Shootout at Pomona. The Shootout runner-up will earn $15,000. The two semifinalists will earn $6,000 each and the four first round finishers $5,000 apiece.
"We're excited many of the NHRA's top drivers will again compete in the Budweiser Shootout at Pomona," said Tony Ponturo, vice president of corporate media and sports marketing, Anheuser-Busch, Inc. "This program gives us an outstanding way to reward the sport's best qualifiers week in and week out, and we're eager to give away $100,000 to this year's champion."
A total of $243,000 is available to Top Fuel drivers during the Budweiser Shootout series. Budweiser awarded $96,000 in bonuses to quick qualifiers throughout the Shootout series, with the low qualifier earning $4,000 at each NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event leading up to the Budweiser Shootout at Pomona.
Bernstein, who leads the NHRA Winston Top Fuel point standings entering the final event, qualified No. 1 at eight events in the Shootout series.
Larry Dixon earned four top qualifying efforts to take the second spot in the lineup, while Mike Dunn posted five No. 1 qualifying efforts to claim the third spot. Defending champ Gary Scelzi anchors the top half of the eight-car field with five No. 1 efforts.
Scelzi, a three-time winner of the bonus event (2000, 1999, 1997), defeated Darrell Russell for the 2000 Budweiser Shootout at Pomona victory. Doug Kalitta (1998) and Dixon (1995) join Scelzi and Bernstein as the only past winners qualified for this year's event. Dunn is making his sixth appearance in the Budweiser Shootout, while Doug Herbert and Tony Schumacher are each making their third start. Darrell Russell is making his second start, after participating in the rain-delayed 2000 Budweiser Shootout, which was completed during the 2001 AutoZone Winternationals. Russell was allowed to compete as a substitute driver for Joe Amato, who retired following the 2000 season.
Amato, who competed in the bonus event a record 16 times, has the most wins (six), including four straight from 1987-'90. Other past winners include Don Garlits (1986); Shelly Anderson (1994); and Scott Kalitta (1996).
Budweiser Shootout rounds are scheduled for 12:45 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 10.
2001 BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT AT POMONA FINAL STANDINGS
1. Kenny Bernstein, Lake Forest, Calif., Budweiser King Dragster 3,750
2. Larry Dixon, Indianapolis, Miller Lite Dragster 3,725
3. Mike Dunn, Wrightsville, Pa., Yankee Dragster 3,655
4. Gary Scelzi, Fresno, Calif., Team Winston Dragster 3,635
5. Doug Kalitta, Ann Arbor, Mich., Mac Tools Dragster 3,405
6. Doug Herbert, Cherryville, N.C., Snap-On Tools Dragster 3,075
7. Tony Schumacher, Park Ridge, Ill., U.S. Army Dragster 3,055
8. Darrell Russell, Hockley, Texas, Amato Racing Dragster 3,050
2001 BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT ROUND PAIRINGS
Bernstein vs. Russell
Dixon vs. Schumacher
Dunn vs. Herbert
Scelzi vs. Kalitta
Bernstein-Russell winner vs. Scelzi-Kalitta winner
Dixon-Schumacher winner vs. Dunn-Herbert winner
FINAL: (4:30 p.m., Nov. 10)