Larry Dixon, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie also were presented checks and trophyware for their season-long accomplishments in their respective pro categories as the NHRA officially closed the curtain on its 2002 season.
The evening was highlighted by a special video tribute to Kenny Bernstein, a six-time NHRA champion, who retired from driving following Sunday's completion of the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway. He was presented a commemorative painting from NHRA that spotlighted several important moments during his legendary career, which spanned more than three decades. Bernstein, the only driver in NHRA history to win championships in both Top Fuel (2) and Funny Car (4), earned 65 victories and was the first driver to clock a speed of more than 300 mph. He will move into a team owner role in 2003 while his son Brandon takes over behind the wheel of the Budweiser King dragster.
Longtime NHRA chief starter, Buster Couch, who passed away earlier in the year, also was honored with a video tribute and by an emotional reflection from Wally Parks, 89-year-old founder of the NHRA.
Dixon also received a check from POWERade for $400,000 for winning his first Top Fuel crown in the Don Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite dragster. Dixon set records for victories (9) and final rounds (14) as he held off defending champ Bernstein for the title.
Coughlin netted $200,000 for winning his second POWERade Pro Stock title aboard the Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier. A late season charge propelled Coughlin to the top of the point standings in the ultra-competitive category that featured 13 different winners during the season.
Angelle Savoie, rider of the Mohegan Sun Suzuki, was presented a $50,000 check from POWERade for claiming her third consecutive title in Pro Stock Bike.
Pro Stock driver Gene Wilson headed the list of special award winners, as he was presented the $20,000 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which recognizes NHRA's rookie of the year. Wilson finished ninth in the POWERade Top 10 with three runner-up finishes and one No. 1 qualifying position in his Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T.
For the first time since 1983, and the 15th year overall, Chevrolet earned the NHRA Manufacturers Cup. ESPN's RPM2Night and RPM2Day was presented the NHRA Media Award.
The future stars of the sport, drivers in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, also were recognized as 2002 champions: Art Gallant (Top Alcohol Dragster); Frank Manzo (Top Alcohol Funny Car); Mike Saye (Competition Eliminator); Anthony Bertozzi (Super Stock); Kevin Helms (Stock Eliminator); Jim Hughes (Super Comp) and Todd Stewart (Super Gas).
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