Notebook: Bernstein honored at Gatornationals


In this photo provided by NHRA, Kenny "The King of Speed" Bernstein parades the original Budweiser Top Fuel car in front of a packed crowd at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com, Saturday in Gainesville. Bernstein broke the 300 mph barrier in Top Fuel at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville exactly 20 years ago. (AP Photo/NHRA, Jerry Foss)

Published: Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 7:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 7:01 p.m.

Over the course of his legendary professional drag racing career, Kenny Bernstein was always known for giving back to the sport.

He did it again Saturday at Gatornationals.

After Bernstein was honored with a parade commemorating the 20-year anniversary of his breaking the 300-mph barrier on this same track, Bernstein announced he was donating his vast collection of race memorabilia to the Darrell Gwynn Foundation.

The foundation, which donates wheelchairs to people in need from across the nation, will auction off the estimated 5,000 items.

“We wanted to find out a way to do something with (the collection) that would benefit NHRA drag racing and a great foundation, and there was only one place to go — the Darrell Gwynn Foundation,” Bernstein said. “We're going to donate our collection so they can auction it off and raise money to help other people.”

Bernstein said his wife Sheryl is the one who collected the thousands of items over Bernstein's 30-plus racing career. The memorabilia includes fire suits, helmets, championship Funny Car and Top Fuel bodies, winner's jackets, photos and numerous other personal items.

“There is a lot of very valuable stuff there,” Bernstein said. “We just felt this sport allowed us to enjoy our lives and do something that I loved doing very much, driving. It allowed us to do that for 30-some years and make a living at it.

“For that to happen with NHRA racing, we feel we need to continue to give to NHRA and the fans of the sport. And, it goes to Darrell's foundation, which will help other people. It's very important. Hopefully, these items will get back into the fans' hands, and that's really important, too.”

Bernstein became emotional during the announcement.

“It's one of those days,” Bernstein, 67, said. “It's very meaningful. It's important to us and there a lot of memories popping in and out of this brain right now, even though I've gotten older. It's still there.”

Gwynn, who said his hometown is Gainesville, had tears in his eyes when he talked about what Bernstein and his wife are doing for his foundation.

“It's a very, very special day for the Darrell Gwynn Foundation,” Gwynn said. “We're going to make Kenny and Sheryl very proud. We're going to do the best we can to share these great memories with everyone in the entire sport and across the world.

“I've seen a list of some of the items. It's an amazing collection. It's unbelievable what's in there. For somebody to take their entire collection of life's memories and donate them to the Darrell Gwynn Foundation really, really means a lot.”

Courtney hits the wall

Courtney Force, 23-year-old daughter of Funny Car legend John Force, went for a thrill ride during the third round of qualifying Saturday afternoon. About halfway down the track, she brushed the wall, igniting a fire in the engine of her Mustang.

She bumped the wall again just after crossing the finish line.

It took the Safety Safari about 15 minutes to clean up the track.

Force was not the only driver to hit the wall. A little later in the third round, fellow Funny Car driver Ron Capps also bumped the wall near the end of his run.

Despite those mishaps, Force and Capps both qualified for today's eliminations.

Bernstein still working

Although he recently announced his retirement from drag racing as a driver and team owner, Bernstein said he really hasn't had time to enjoy retirement yet. He's been busy closing his two shops, one in Indianapolis and one in California, and getting them ready to sell.

“We aren't retired. That's the problem,” Bernstein said. “I said we should have kept the race team if we were going to work this hard.

“There will come a time when we can do the other things we want to do. We'll see what happens at that stage. It's time to close the door and get on with our lives. Is our heart in drag racing? Always. Always.”

Guest of the Army

Elvin Laureano, a staff sergeant currently serving as Station Commander of the Palatka Recruiting Station in Gainesville Company, is the special guest this weekend of the U.S. Army Top Fuel team and driver Tony Schumacher.

Laureano began his career in the Army National Guard in 2001 with Alpha Company 1/65th Infantry in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He later served on active duty with the 1st Brigade, Bravo Company, 1/16th Infantry at Fort Riley , Kan. While there, he served as both a Team Leader and Squad Leader, and completed two tours in Iraq in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM as an Infantryman in Baghdad and Ballad, Iraq.

Year off for Dixon

In 2010, Larry Dixon was a remarkable 10 for 10 in winning finals in Top Fuel. Now, Dixon finds himself without a ride this season after parting ways with the Al Anabi team in December.

Dixon isn't the only big name missing from Top Fuel this year. Del Worsham, who won last year's season championship, left to become the crew chief for Funny Car rookie Alexis DeJoria.

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