10 Minutes with Bernstein
NHRA driver Brandon Bernstein and the Budweiser/Lucas Oil team celebrated their fifth victory of the season at Brainerd, Minn. Part of the Oakley team since 2003, Bernstein is having a dream season, with five wins on the road to the Championships. He stopped by Oakley Headquarters to talk racing, crashes and friends.
It’s my fifth full season—I started in ’03. I’m driving for Bud, Mac Tools… I’m pleased to have Oakley. We have a great relationship with Deanna and have a great time with her. With all the products you have out there, it’s awesome to be associated with you guys.
Hijinx is my favorite shade right now.
This year, things are different. It’s down to the wire. They’re trying a new format called “Countdown to the Championships”. The top eight drivers after 17 races are in the Countdown. We’re one of those cars. We’re going into Indy as number four. The final two races, Vegas and Pomona, determine the championships.
We’ve had five wins this year—the most wins in a season in my career.
This year we’re seeing the fastest field. It’s the most competition ever in the sport—funny car, pro-stock—all the classes are up a level. Any day in Top Fuel, there are 10-12 cars that can win a race. It’s very tough to win races, but nobody else has won five.It’s pretty amazing to have five wins in a season like this.
We’ve had three DNQ’s. I had a kidney stone a couple weeks ago and couldn’t race. But with three DNQ’s, we’re still fourth in points, with five wins.
My fastest times is 4:47 and I’ve gotten up to 336 mph. It’s getting’ it. It’s so much fun.
People always ask what’s going through your mind—it’s hard to explain, your body and mind are going just as quick and fast as car is going. Everything just slows down to be honest. Those 4.5 seconds you see are ten to us.
It’s an amazing feeling when you hit the throttle and it pulls 5Gs on your body. When the chute comes out, you’re just trying to keep the car straight. You’re feeling what the car is doing, there are and so many things you’re thinking about in those seconds. A lot of it is reaction, experience, maybe it’s just focusing on what you need to get done in that one run.
Everyone labeled us the Brat Pack because we were second generation young drivers. Originally it was our best friend Eric Medlen, who we lost this year, Ashley Force, and Morgan Lucus. Then it evolved into JR—now it’s four of us. Basically just four people who are second-generation drivers who love the sport and like to be around each other on and off the track. We just wanted to make sure we became good friends. It’s a nice bond to have inside and outside of racinh. We’re together 23 weekends a year so we’re pretty much extended family.
In ‘03, my rookie year, I had a bad accident in Englishtown, NJ. It was basically just driver error. It was being a rookie and trying to win a round of racing. I did some things I shouldn’t have done, like go on and off the throttle. I went right into the wall. The car actually went in backwards and when it hit the wall, that was the force that broke my back. The car grinded the rail and landed on the other side. I felt my back break and ended up breaking my T3 vertebreae and was out for nine months. I had a brace from my waist to my chin, it was like a little turtle shell. I had to wear it for four months, 24/7 to let the bone heal naturally. It was another four months in rehab to get strong enough to back in a racecar.
The crash doesn’t play into my mind at all;I put it out of my mind. I had so much time to think about the crash and what it was going to entail to get back in the car. I mentally prepared so well and had a. great teacher. My dad said, “It’s gonna be weird, but as soon as the motor starts, it’s going to be normal again.” My mental state was better than my physical state.
In driving these cars, it’s such a rush and it’s such a negative rush when chute comes out. Your body takes so much force, it takes a while to decompress.Your adrenaline is going so much.
The Countdown to the Championships is going to be interesting. Indy is huge, twice as many cars trying to qualify. You’ve got the top guys out there that are going to be battling. It will be interesting to see. We’ll be going to tracks that are getting cooler and it will be fun to see the cars than run better in cooler weather. We’ll see some better numbers.
When you look back on a season, you can be thankful for the highs, but its not going to bring back your best friend. We were all so close, he was my rock. I always went to him; I was always over at his trailer. We feel like this year is our year to win it for Eric.
I lost another close friend last year—he was my best friend out of racing. To lose two best friends within one year, it’s been hard. It’s been a struggle. If we win Championships, it’d be nice to say, this is for you guys.
NHRA is really a close community. You’re always congratulating the guy who wins. There are guys that mess with you, but for most part, a lot of guys out there are good guys and good friends and it’s fun to race them.