POMONA - Brandon Bernstein doesn't think he's lost in the shuffle this weekend at the NHRA Winternationals, despite the debut of fellow Brat Packer Ashley Force and the return of his father to the quarter-mile.
He drove the point home Thursday after opening the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series season with a 4.494-second run at 331.61 mph. It was the best among the Top Fuel dragsters in the first of four qualifying sessions before Sunday's eliminations.
"It ran great," Bernstein said of the pass in his Budweiser-sponsored car. "It shook a little about 60 feet out but it cleared up right away and my vision cleared up and then it just took off.
"We were going 277 mph at half-track so it was hauling. It's great to be No. 1 but it's obviously very early. We had a lot of momentum at the end of last year and we're hoping to keep that alive heading into this season."
But it wasn't all good news in the Bernstein camp.
In his first competitive run in three years, Kenny Bernstein's return to Funny Car ended at half-trackbackfired and slowed, crossing the line in 12.935 at 60.80.
"He was disappointed," Brandon said.
Andy Bolwar of Paradise Valley, Ariz., was airlifted to USC Medical Center in Los Angeles as a precaution following a crash during Super Comp qualifying Friday night. His Pontiac slammed into the retaining wall after the run.
According to NHRA emergency services, Bolwar was responsive and taken to the hospital for evaluation. ...Greg Anderson debuted a new engine in taking the top spot in Pro Stock at 6.647 at 208.33. "I think we have a workable product with lots of room for improvement, which is good because with the way the points deal is now you need to peak at the end of the year," Anderson said... Scott Griffin has joined longtime friends Mark and Andy Carrier as a partner in Carrier Boyz Racing, which fields a Top Fuel dragster driven by Cory McClenathan. ... In his Top Fuel debut, Whit Bazemore put himself into the field with a run of 4.533 at 321.04. "I felt at home and that was good for my confidence. This team is unbelievable and they've made the transition so easy. My car is perfect," said Bazemore, who raced Funny Cars for 17 years.
Jack Beckman, who seemingly came out of nowhere the last part of 2006 to win a national event in Las Vegas and set both ends of the national record, probably knows Pomona Raceway better than most.
After all, he's an instructor at Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School. But that isn't that much of an advantage.
"I don't know that anybody has thrown the switch up there more than me," said Beckman, who will drive the Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing. "It's funny, when I raced Super Comp a lot of times I would hear from the other drivers that they were really worried coming up to race me because it's my home track and I've got an advantage.
"All of the tracks are straight and they're all a quarter mile, I don't know that there's an advantage. But there's a big comfort level at Pomona for me."
But there are some advantages.
"There will be a lot of friends and family out there to support me," he said, "plus all the local racers that I've run against for the last 15 years. So, yeah, I feel really comfortable there."
HOME SWEET HOME
Melanie Troxel may call Littleton, Colo., home, but she's also very much at ease at the famed Pomona Raceway quarter-mile.
In the last three NHRA events at Pomona, she has reached the finals in Top Fuel. In that time span, she lost twice to Tony Schumacher (Auto Club Finals in 2005 and 2006) and scored a win at the 2006 Winternationals against him.
In each of those events, she was a member of Don Schumacher Racing. She now drives for Morgan Lucas Racing.
"There are certain tracks you seem to do well," Troxel said. "There's not any real reason to it, but it looks to be one of those tracks for us. It's great because there's definitely something special about the Winternationals, about Pomona, that first race of the year.
"It's a very special race for me. So, it's nice to have that be one of the tracks we perform well on and we look forward to it."
OUT FOR THE SEASON
For the first time in the last 21 years, Mark Pawuk will not have an entry in the Winternationals' Pro Stock field. Pawuk, following consultations with his family, sponsors and his employees, opted to forego the 2007 season.
"This was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make," Pawuk said. "What's made it even harder for me is that our sponsors, who have demonstrated amazing loyalty, have been so encouraging. Every single one of them has indicated that when we return to action next season, they'll continue to have their logos displayed on our car, and I'm very grateful for their support.
"During the last few months I've also realized that, with my growing children, my family situation and my business, I just need to stick closer to home for the next few months. There's just no way to be truly competitive in NHRA Pro Stock drag racing if you can't devote your every waking hour to it, and at this point I'm just not able to make that kind of commitment."