By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — Top fuel driver Brandon Bernstein is going into this weekend’s U.S. Nationals the old fashioned way.
“We’re just going in to win it,” said Bernstein in a Tuesday interview. “We just want to be up there at the end of the qualifying. Points don’t matter, and we tested well there last week.”
Bernstein’s back issue has caused him to miss a few events on this year’s schedule and the testing done in Indy last week. J.R. Todd did the actual testing of Bernstein’s car.
As a result of the missed events, he is now in 12th place in the points standings and has no mathematical chance to get into the top 10 at this weekend’s event. That means he won’t get the chance to go for the season-ending championship.
“Yeah, they told me that basically I have no chance to get in the top 10,” said Bernstein.
Unfortunately, some fine print in the rules for the Traxxas Nitro Shootout (Top Fuel on Saturday and Funny Car on Sunday) keeps him from competing for that as well. His health issue again kept him from being at the required number of races — in this case, all of them.
He had been hoping he would be available to be voted into the event by the fans, who get to fill the final spot of those eligible for the Shootout.
His back pain flared up without a lot of warning.
“I just woke up one morning and had major lower back pain,” said Bernstein. “I also had numbness in my big toe. I’d had back pain off and on from about a year ago. But not the numbness. I went to the doctor, and they told me I had a herniated disc that was pinching a nerve and that was causing the numbness.”
He asked for and received a second opinion from the doctor who treated his 2003, season-ending back injury from a crash he suffered at an event in Englishtown. He got the same diagnosis.
“So I got two great doctors telling me I need to get this fixed,” said Bernstein. “I asked if I could race anyway and just drive with the pain. They told me that wasn’t a good idea. The numbness was in my right foot, and that’s my bread and butter.”
His rehab has had some complications, and the Dallas native still has a bit of pain — a product of the g-force involved in going 300-plus mph.
This battle has made Bernstein even easier for the fans to understand and get behind.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and tell me they’ve had exactly the same problem and even exactly the same surgery,” said Bernstein. “They know that to repair this type of nerve damage takes some time.”
Indiana sports fans only have to think back to the nerve trouble of former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to understand the driver’s struggles.
Bernstein’s father Kenny Bernstein, was a six-time NHRA champion. Brandon has finished third three times during his career. He just turned 43 years old. He and his wife Tracey have a 3-year-old daughter Lyla Faith. They live in Lake Forest, Calif.