Bernstein Looking Comfortable At Morgan Lucas

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 17 2013

Brandon Bernstein is in his second year at Morgan Lucas Racing and getting more comfortable every week. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

TOPEKA, Kan. – Brandon Bernstein looked anything but comfortable as he made his way around his team’s compound at Heartland Park Topeka on Friday. He was kind of waddling and weaving and making odd facial grimace kind of deals – all as a result of a mysteriously herniated disc in his lower back.

But rather oddly, one of the first phases out of the the veteran Top Fuel driver’s mouth when he slowed down enough to talk about drag racing was, “I’m as comfortable now, with this team, as I have ever been.”

He certainly looked comfortable in his MAVTV-sponsored, Toyota-powered rail Friday in the first round of qualifying for the Kansas Nationals as he grabbed the provisional pole with “This team”.

“This team” is Morgan Lucas Racing. It’s the team Bernstein hooked up with after his father’s legendary NHRA Top Fuel team was dumped by long-time sponsor Budweiser a couple years ago after the St. Louis brewing company was bought by Europeans.

Bernstein kind of nodded along when it was suggested to him that joining a new team after spending not just his decade-long-plus driving career with his father’s team, but also his entire life around it, could present major comfortability problems.

Then he said, nope. “These guys have welcomed me with open arms and it has just been a real good fit for (both) of us.”

And, Bernstein said, he thinks the fit is so good that he’s really close to being able to pay off his new team with some trips to track winner’s circles.

“We feel that we are starting to get our groove back,” Bernstein said.

Not that the groove ever moved that far away. Last year in his first season with Morgan Lucas, Bernstein posted a pair of runner-up finishes – at Englishtown and Denver.

And then, in the season finale at Pomona, Bernstein got the victory – his first in three years.

And a sweet one it was, too. The grimace thing vanished as he talked about it, in fact. It was a victory that played a big role in getting great friend Antron Brown the 2012 Top Fuel championship.

“That was pretty spectacular,” Bernstein said. “It was one of those days. Everything started to fall into place. We saw who we were going to race on race day and things just started happening. We knew that we would have to take out (Spencer) Massey and (Tony) Schumacher in the final to get Antron the championship. It was a special day. It was something that was really cool and it was one of those you never forget. We weren’t going to win the championship but we got to be one who dictated it.”

The 2013 season started out so-so for Bernstein. He was eliminated in the second round at the Winternationals in the season-opener and then in the first round in the following event at Phoenix. After that, he was two and done at Gainesville.

But after the Gainsville setback, the team introduced a new clutch system.

The clutch didn’t produce immediately as Bernstein was knocked out in the first round at Las Vegas but last weekend at the rain-delayed race at Atlanta Dragway, he advanced to the finals; where he lost to Brown.

“We really got the car dialed in last weekend,” Bernstein said.

Heartland has been a good track for Bernstein in the past. He’s won here with his father’s team. And he nearly won here a year ago.

“Last year our car was so good we felt like it was our race to lose,” he said. “We were going down the track while everyone else was smoking the tires. Then we cut a fuel line on the burnout in the semifinals and had to shut it off. I know my crew chief Joe Barlam and the rest of the guys are eager to get back so we can get a chance to redeem ourselves.”

If Bernstein – seventh in points arriving at Topeka – does redeem himself and earn his 22nd Top Fuel Wally, it will be with back pain which sent him to the doctor this past week. The doctor stuck a needle in the herniated disc and filled it with a steroid.

He said during the week he was not sure if that will do much good during 300 mph runs up the Heartland strip. But, it’s pretty certain that a trip to the winner’s circle on Sunday will do massive good.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 17 2013
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