Kenny Bernstein retires from NHRA Drag Racing
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein has turned the final page and closed the book on his career as a competitor and NHRA racing team owner. 

“My wife, Sheryl, and I have come to a place in our lives where we want to pursue other interests,” said Bernstein. “We have poured our hearts and souls in motorsports for over 30 years, and that’s a full-time job. It consumes you, and there is very little time to relax.

“We are very proud of our accomplishments through the years, and it’s been a great ride, but we’re interested in being able to travel at will, we want to spend some time on the golf course, and we’ve recently taken up fly fishing, which we really enjoy. It’s time to enjoy life while we still have our health.” 

“Kenny Bernstein and his entire operation have thrilled fans for more than 30 years and for that NHRA is forever grateful,” said NHRA President Tom Compton. “His place in NHRA history is undisputed and his accomplishments both on the track and in the board room are second to none. 

“He paved the way for team sponsorship in NHRA and showed others how to not only win on the track, but how to service team sponsors and develop long-lasting business relationships.  Everyone at NHRA wishes Kenny and Sheryl the best in their new endeavors and I want them to know they are always welcome here at NHRA.”

“Kenny, Brandon, Sheryl, and team are a first-class organization. We have enjoyed our partnership over the past two seasons,” said Jay Adair, CEO of Copart. “We wish Kenny and Sheryl the best in retirement.”

“Copart was supportive of our decision, and we’re very grateful to CEO Jay Adair and President Vinnie Mitz for giving us their blessing and allowing us to step away from the sport,” continued Bernstein. “The Auto Club Finals at Pomona this past weekend was our final run.

“We can’t say enough about the close association and rapport we have built within the Copart organization. In the two years we have worked with them, they have made us feel like family. We were very proud and honored to have flown their colors and represented them.

“There’s certainly a great deal of sadness in coming to terms with the end of an era and some concern about whether or not you can run a life at 300 mph and then come to a sudden stop, but Sheryl and I gave this a tremendous amount of thought before we came to our final decision. Brandon was also a part of the decision-making process, and we are going to do everything we can to help him find a position with another team. Brandon lives and breathes the day-to-day demands and understands the endless hours of effort that we poured into the team. Brandon wanted what was best for Sheryl and me at this stage of our lives. He was totally selfless.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to all the team members who have worked for us through the years as well as the sponsors who have supported us. We certainly want to salute the fans who have cheered us on and given us encouragement through the past three decades. And we appreciate all the media coverage through the years. We have made some great friends on all sides of the spectrum, and we’re grateful for that.

“We salute the late, great NHRA founder Wally Parks, who was a dear friend and gave us an arena in which to live out our dreams. We are fortunate to have had a job that we loved, and without Wally’s vision, it’s hard to say where our life’s path would have led.

“For a youngster that grew up in Texas dreaming about cars and reading Hot Rod magazine, we were able to live the dream.

“For the near term, we are looking forward to our induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame [May 3, 2012] in Talladega, Ala., alongside John Force and Richard Childress.

“Thanks again to all those who have touched our lives. We are walking away with a treasure chest full of memories.”

Kenny Bernstein broke the 300-mph barrier in Gainesville in 1992.

Bernstein is a gifted driver and businessman. He holds the unique distinction of being the first and only race team owner to have collected wins in each of America’s three major motorsports series: NHRA Drag Racing, NASCAR, and CART (IndyCar).

He earned the title “King of Speed” when he became the first NHRA driver to break the 300-mph barrier March 20, 1992, in Gainesville. 

In May 1992, his IndyCar with driver Roberto Guerrero sat on the pole of the Indy 500.

Bernstein’s association with Budweiser lasted for 30 years, setting the watermark as the longest-running sponsorship in the history of auto sports. During his driving career, he won 69 NHRA national events, four consecutive Funny Car championships (1985-88), and two Top Fuel championships (1996 and 2001). He was also voted in the top 10 on NHRA’s Top 50 Drivers list.

As a team owner, he accumulated 18 Top Fuel victories with son Brandon at the wheel.

Following is a chronological list of Bernstein’s career highlights.

1966: Supported a Top Fuel drag racing hobby that included several victories on the Texas Pro Fuel Circuit by selling high-fashion women’s wear

1974: Abandoned his racing hobby to focus on the Chelsea Street Pub Restaurant chain he founded with Randy Pumphrey in Lubbock, Texas

1978: Returned to racing in midseason with the Chelsea King Funny Car

1979: Won his first NHRA national event, the Cajun Nationals in Baton Rouge, La.

1980: Debuted the Budweiser King Funny Car, beginning a sponsorship association that lasted an unprecedented 30 years

1983: Drove the Budweiser King Funny Car to victory in both the Big Bud Shootout and the U.S. Nationals during the same weekend, becoming the first to achieve that double win

1984: Became the first Funny Car driver to break the 260-mph barrier (260.11 mph), March 18 in Gainesville

1985: Won the first of four consecutive NHRA Funny Car championships; founded King Racing NASCAR team

1986: Won second NHRA Funny Car championship; became first to break the 5.50-second barrier (5.425 seconds, Sept. 26, Dallas); became first to break the 270-mph barrier in a Funny Car (271.41 mph, Aug. 30, Indianapolis)

1987: Won NHRA Funny Car championship for the third time; became first to break the 5.40-second barrier in a Funny Car (5.397 seconds, April 5, Dallas); won Big Bud Shootout for second time; founded King Protofab IndyCar team (later renamed King Motorsports)

1988: Won fourth consecutive and final NHRA Funny Car championship of career; earned first victory as a NASCAR team owner when Ricky Rudd prevailed in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

1989: Announced decision to move from Funny Cars to Top Fuel dragsters in 1990; earned second NASCAR win with Rudd at Sears Point (now Infineon Raceway) in Sonoma

1990: Debuted the Budweiser King Top Fuel dragster; earned third NASCAR victory with Brett Bodine in North Wilkesboro, N.C.

1991: Tied single-season record at that time for Top Fuel victories with six; earned the final spot in the Cragar 4-Second Club; became first driver to win both the Big Bud Shootout for Funny Cars and the Budweiser Classic for Top Fuel dragsters with Classic victory in Pomona

1992: Became first driver to break the 300-mph barrier (301.70 mph, March 20, Gainesville); was pole-winning and one-lap and four-lap speed record-setting owner at the Indianapolis 500 with driver Roberto Guerrero

1993: Became first driver to win 100 rounds in both Top Fuel and Funny Car; won Budweiser Classic for second time

1994: Became the first driver to break the 310-mph barrier with speed of 311.85 mph in semifinals and set NHRA national record of 314.46 mph at season-ending Finals in Pomona; earned first IndyCar victory as car owner when Scott Goodyear prevailed at Michigan Int'l Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. (victory made Bernstein first car owner to attain victories in each of the three major American auto racing series: NHRA Drag Racing, CART, and NASCAR)

1996: Won first NHRA Top Fuel championship and became first driver to win championships in both nitro categories

2001: Won sixth NHRA championship, second in Top Fuel; with son Brandon, became first father and son to win at the same NHRA national event in April at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; they doubled again in June at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago; voted one of top 10 drivers in NHRA’s 50-year history

2002: This season marked Bernstein’s Forever Red…A Run To Remember retirement tour; passed the keys to the company car to son Brandon

2003: In Brandon’s rookie season, Bernstein stepped back into cockpit after Brandon sustained season-ending back injuries from a crash in Englishtown; won four events to finish the season sixth after beginning to accrue points at 10th event of season

2004: Brandon returned to Top Fuel cockpit 

2005: Named by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association as one of 12 nominees for the Newsmaker of the Half-Century award. In alphabetical order, the nominees were Mario Andretti, Bernstein, Dale Earnhardt, John Force, A.J.Foyt, the France family, Jeff Gordon, Dan Gurney, the Hulman-George family, Wally Parks, Roger Penske, and Richard Petty

2006: Inducted into Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame April 5 at Texas Motor Speedway; announced at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil that he would stage an NHRA comeback driving the Monster Energy Funny Car in 2007

2007: After one season in Funny Car, decided to step out of the cockpit; inducted into Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame

2009: Celebrated Budweiser/Bernstein 30th anniversary, the longest team/sponsor relationship in autosports history; also the final year of Budweiser sponsorship

2010-11: Two seasons of Copart sponsorship