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Thu, 9 Nov 2000, 05:50 PM

Heir Waves
Courtesy of Susan Arnold

LAKE FOREST, Calif. -- There's something in the heir in the Bud King camp.

Kenny Bernstein, known the past decade as the "King of Speed", has announced the first step to pass the scepter to his son.

"The plan basically is that I will drive no more than two years at the most, possibly only one, depending on a couple of factors," said Bernstein. "Beginning next season Brandon will drive the Darien/Meadows A Fuel dragster in ten national and eight divisional events, with Budweiser and Mac Tools lending sponsorship assistance.

"In the meantime, we'll be chasing another championship on the Bud King side. What I do at the end of next year depends on the success of our Bud King team and how Brandon progresses on the A Fuel side. No matter what, I won't drive more than two years period."

"Budweiser is proud to have sponsored Kenny for the past 21 years, and we're looking forward to having him drive the Bud King dragster until he decides his racing days are over," said Tony Ponturo, vice president corporate media and sports marketing, Anheuser-Busch, Inc.

"At the same time, we're excited at the prospect of having Brandon in the Bud King dragster some day. He's been a part of Kenny's team for several years, and we can't think of a better person to take over for the King of Speed, when Kenny decides it's time."

Brandon Bernstein, 28, who realized during his high school years, that he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, is ecstatic over the opportunities that lie before him.

"Having a father who is famous, I was always looking at articles and reading about him, seeing his success," confided the youngest Bernstein. "When I first went to one of his races, the nitro, the sound, to have a father who had such a successful career, just added to it. It was then that I started to think that one day I wanted to be a driver and own a team."

Kenny was insistent that Brandon first obtain a college degree, and in 1996, Brandon graduated from Texas A & M with a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology, specializing in Sports Management.

After graduation, Brandon came to work as a full time member of the Bud King team, starting on the bottom rung of the ladder.

"The work ethic and mind set that you get when you start at the bottom laid good groundwork for me," said Brandon.

Though Kenny was aware that Brandon's goal was to eventually drive a Top Fuel car, Kenny admonished Brandon not to pester him, to let Kenny call the shots as he deemed appropriate.

Jerry Darien, a Federal-Mogul dragster racer/owner for the past 40 years, helped form the racing careers of current Fuel drivers Gary Scelzi, Frank Pedregon, and Melanie Troxel, and now will become Brandon's instructor as he pursues his dream.

"Kenny was just an acquaintance of mine and he called one day and asked what it would take to put Brandon in the seat of our A Fuel dragster," said Darien. "We started to talk and were able to put a deal together. I'm real enthused about this. I told my wife this is like getting my own son without having to have one.

"Scelz (Darien's nickname for Scelzi) and Frankie (Pedregon) call me 'Dad' and Scelz calls me every week. They're like my kids, and Brandon will be one of the family."

Though Brandon has graduated from Frank Hawley's drag racing school with a Super Gas license, Darien has a specific lesson plan to ease him into the horsepower and speeds he will experience in an alcohol car.

"It's easier to learn to drive in steps," said Darien. "We'll put Brandon in the car and run 60 feet until he's comfortable with that, and then we'll run 330 feet until he's comfortable with that, then 660 feet, then 1000 feet, and then graduate to a complete finish line pass.

"I think Brandon will be fine," continued Darien. "He's probably made a million runs in his mind. He just needs to make them in a car."

"Exactly," chimes in Brandon. "Every time Dad goes up there (to the starting line), I think what he's doing inside the cockpit. I visualize what the car does, and I'm visualizing what he's actually doing…..when he puts the fuel on the high side, when he lets the clutch out. I've made million of runs in my mind definitely."

Both Bernsteins concur that there will be less pressure for Brandon if he comes up through the Federal-Mogul ranks where he can get seat time under competition, but perhaps not under such high-profile scrutiny that he will eventually face when he moves to the Top Fuel ranks.

Darien coached Gary Scelzi to a Division Championship in 1996 and followed that with a 1999 Division Six title with Melanie Troxel. Brandon hopes to be able to equal that success.

"Every day that goes by these last three or four weeks," said Brandon, "I step back and go, 'wow this dream is really coming true.' I didn't think it would all play out this nicely."

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