FAREWELL TOUR 2002
Kenny Bernstein's Most Memorable
2001 Mid-South Nationals
But last year, when Bernstein needed it most — he was in dogged pursuit of Larry Dixon en route to his second Top Fuel championship — the Bud King was crowned victor in the home of "the other King." The event was especially memorable and emotional in its own right, as it was the first NHRA event following the events of Sept. 11. Bernstein added it to his special keepsake races with a big win over Dixon when the class' top two drivers went head to head in the final and what would amount to a 40-point swing in the standings.
Entering the event, Bernstein and Dixon each had won five times in seven final-round appearances during 2001, distancing themselves from the rest of the field. Dixon entered the race with a 47-point lead, but Bernstein chopped into that with his sixth victory. The final was the sixth meeting between the two racers in 2001 and third in five races. Each driver had beaten the other three times, but Bernstein had won both of the final-round meetings.
After qualifying his Tim Richards-tuned Budweiser King dragster third with a 4.60 behind Doug Herbert (5.59) and Dixon (5.58), Bernstein ran low e.t. in all four rounds Sunday. The five-time Winston champ clocked back-to-back 4.62s in victories over Jim Cavalieri and Darrell Russell and ran a 4.69 to beat Doug Kalitta in the semifinals.
Dixon, coming off back-to-back wins in Brainerd and Indy with Don Prudhomme's Miller Lite dragster, qualified on the pole for the second time in the last three races and ran a 4.64 in his first-round victory over Don Sosenka before being slowed by an ignition problem in round two. After escaping with a 4.71 to 4.73 victory over Tony Schumacher, Dixon beat Mike Dunn on a holeshot in the semifinals, 4.68 to 4.67.
For Dixon, who crashed in the 2000 Memphis final when his dragster broke in half, the problems continued in the 2001 final. Both drivers had exceptional reaction times (.449 to .469, favoring Dixon), but Bernstein, despite being relegated to the less-desirable right lane and spinning the tires at half-track, still ran a 4.68 to beat Dixon's 4.75, snapping Dixon's consecutive round-win streak at 11.
"The right lane was very rough, and the car was bouncing," said Bernstein, whose final-round appearance was the 101st of his career and 53rd in Top Fuel. "Our computer showed that the car was coming off the ground a ton down there, and we knew that was going to happen again [in the final]. When we lost lane choice it was a major concern, and I was very happy to get down that lane like I did.
"We needed to stop him right there and gain as much ground as we could," continued Bernstein, who, with his victory, cut Dixon's lead to just 27 points. "There are only five races to go, so it's going to be hard to make up a lot of ground unless one of the teams messes up, and that's possible, but these are two great race teams."