2002 (2003?) Bud Shootout
Story and Photos by Phil Elliott
The Clydesdales gave the Pomona fans a look at a different kind of horsepower.
For the first time in Motorsports history, the Budweiser Shootouts for NHRA and NASCAR happened on the same day. On opposite coasts, drivers and teams readied for their respective endeavors. The rare same-day split was caused by rain during the 2002 season-ending World Finals. Planners decided it would be better to forestall the popular Budweiser public relations event, and since the two were virtually back-to-back on television, Anheuser-Busch must have been delighted. Well, except for one little thing.
In Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr. came from the back to win the 70-lap event in his Bud-backed Chevy. In Pomona, young Bud-backed Brandon Bernstein won his first two rounds and got a holeshot in the final round, only to be edged by Larry Dixon Jr. in the Miller Lite backed entry.
Of course, if you really want to get technical, rookie Brandon, who the press has begun to term "Bud Prince," wasn't even qualified to run for the $100,000. His father actually earned all the qualifying markers during 2002 that entitled Brandon to run for the Bud Bucks. But, for this show, the points seem to go with the car. It wasn't the first time a driver change has been allowed in a similar Bud Shootout scenario - for example, Darrell Russell took over for Joe Amato a couple years ago.
After the usual pre-race hoopla, the four pairs of the Big Bud Shootout began the third qualifying shot in Top Fuel and four out of those eight ran 4.59s! One of those, turned by Darrell Russell, lost to Bernstein's 4.57! It was one of the finest shows of strength ever.
Larry Dixon won the first half of a huge Pomona payday by winning the Bud Shootout.
Tony Schumacher started things with a 4.593/320 win over an up in smoke Cory McClenathan. Then, the Carrier Boyz entry oiled on the burnout - the left side valve cover nuts had been left off - so the chances of young Andrew Cowin were dashed. Doug Kalitta singled to a 4.591/315. Doug Herbert started strong (RTs .023 to .070) but his Goodyears began to spin by about 500 feet and Larry Dixon powered by for a 4.591/324 victory. And Bernstein earned his keep against Russell (RTs .024 to .030) and ran Low ET of the round for the win, 4.579/322 to 4.597 322.
Though it really didn't seem to be a big deal, lane choice went to Dixon over Kalitta (on speed) and Bernstein over Schumacher.
First out in the semis, Dixon got slightly behind again (RTs .059 to .063) but again his opponent, Kalitta, spun his tires. The aggressive Dick LaHaie tune-up seemed to be suited perfectly to the conditions. A 4.549/323 flashed on the boards.
In the other semi, Schumacher jumped out ahead of Bernstein (RTs .044 to .058) and stayed out there to about 1000 feet when the blower belt flew off. Even so, the 4.590/321 only surged .020 ahead of a coasting 4.624 291 for the luckless Shoe.
So, even considering all the changes and pre-season testing, the beer wars began again.
The Bud Shootout final was one for the record books.
Larry Dixon chose his favored left lane, then got behind for the third race in a row (RTs .038 to .041). Check the incrementals for yourself, but know this was one of the finest nitro drag races in history, with Dixon winning by just 0.0039 of a second.
Brandon Bernstein did a fabulous job in his competition debut.
Budweiser Shootout Final Round Statistics
Larry Dixon: .838, 2.164, 3.091/272, 3.876, 4.558 324.59
Brandon Bernstein: .846, 2.158, 3.087/269, 3.878, 4.564 323.89
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