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DRAG RACING WINTERNATIONALS : Bernstein Has Hopes in Clouds


Kenny Bernstein sat on a mountain bike, peering down the drag strip at the Fairplex at Pomona.

It was a quiet Friday morning, a kind of calm before the storm of sound and fury that today's National Hot Rod Assn. Winternationals finals will bring.

He glanced skyward and mused quietly: "I'd like to see that sun go behind the clouds."

Clouds bring speed for top-fuel dragsters, which Bernstein has driven faster than anyone else--three runs in excess of 300 m.p.h.

Clouds cool the track, hardening the rubber on it for better traction.

But they also bring rain, which is why Bernstein was at Pomona on Friday, preparing to race against Don Prudhomme at 10 this morning in one of the two matches remaining in the first round.

Bernstein had qualified third a week earlier, with a 4.894-second run at 277.60 m.p.h., and was ready to defend his Winternationals title on Sunday, when rain washed out the show.

In the unexpected interim, Bernstein, a racing conglomerate of sorts, had spent a day at Bakersfield, testing the car he will drive today, and returned to Pomona.

He also had spent hours on the telephone, checking on his stock car that Brett Bodine will race in Sunday's Daytona 500, and on his Indy cars that Roberto Guerrero and Jim Crawford will test next week at Sebring, Fla.

"Win or lose, I'm ready to go to Daytona (Saturday)," he said. "I have plane reservations all over the place."

The trip will be a happier one if he wins the title here and one of his four runs exceeds 300 m.p.h. His three 300-plus runs last year all were during Friday qualifying sessions.

"It's different on race day," Bernstein said. "We are a little more conservative then."

Seeking to join Bernstein in the 300-m.p.h. club will be Cory McClenathan, who was the top qualifier last weekend at 4.784 seconds and 296.93 m.p.h. He then beat Shelly Anderson in Sunday's first round and advanced to a second-round run today against Tommy Johnson Jr.

Perhaps more important now, McClenathan wants the nearly $40,000 that winning the Winternationals will bring. McClenathan, of Anaheim, also has been trying to gain the sponsorship that would allow him to run the entire NHRA season.

"We got phone calls from two different companies," he said. "They're sending representatives out tomorrow."

McClenathan makes no secret of his desire to drive 300 m.p.h.

"I want to be the second one to do it," he said.

Can someone do 300 today?

"It can happen," Bernstein said. "You could see a 300 at 10 o'clock, when it's cool."

And if the sun is behind a cloud. And if the clouds don't bring yet another day of rain.

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