Shalom Life | February 01, 2015

Jewish Hall Of Fame: Kenny Bernstein

The famous "King of Speed" is known as one of the most important figures in NASCAR history

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: January 30th, 2015 in Sports » Local

Since the dawn of time, Jewish people have contributed greatly to various fields, from sports to entertainment to politics to porn. With our Breakthrough Jew feature, we recognize those who are up and comers in these various industries, identifying those great innovators and leaders in the contemporary world who are making a mark on society that will last a lifetime.

With the Jewish Hall of Fame, we recognize the remarkable advancements members of our community have made on today's society. These are people who have truly changed the world, and have earned the respect and praise of the members of today's younger generation.

ShalomLife’s Jewish Hall of Fame is our ongoing tribute to the greatest Jews who have ever lived; be sure to catch us weekly with our latest inductees, and tweet us @ShalomLife with your suggestions

Check out last week's inductee into the Hall of Fame here.

Hall of Fame Member: Kenny Bernstein

Born: September 6th, 1944, in Lubbock, Texas.

As fun as it is to drive fast, no everyone’s cut out for a career as a racer. But Kenny Bernstein proved everyone he could when he began his drag racing career in 1979. Born in 1944, he grew up with his family in Texas, attending Monterey High School in Lubbock, where he played for his school’s basketball team. Although Bernstein was sports oriented, he decided to attend the University of Texas at Arlington (then Arlington State College) upon graduation.

He attended Arlington in 1966 for a degree in business administration, but dropped out of school before he could complete his degree. He was unhappy with his career choice, having always had a love of cars, and decided to try and pursue drag racing. However, unable to support himself on a dream alone, Bernstein worked for a time as a traveling salesman for the Whistle Stop clothing store. He traveled across the United States in his Cadillac, selling clothing designed for teenage girls, before he could seriously pursue his dream of racing.

Bernstein participated in a few races here and there, but finally got his big break in 1979 as a full-time funny car driver. Funny car is a class of drag racing car that’s used professionally, and that’s often more modern looking than other drag racing cars, and custom made fiberglass or carbon fiber bodies and modifications. In 1980, only one year after becoming a driver, he received a sponsorship deal from Anheuser-Busch, the producers of Budweiser. The sponsorship lasted for thirty years, but was not renewed when the company fell under new ownership. Bernstein won his first Funny Car championship in 1985, and was able to defend his title for the next three seasons.

In 1990, Bernstein began to race in the Top Fuel Dragster class following rule changes made by the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association). Amazingly, in 1992, Bernstein was the first driver to drive more that 300 MPH in a competition, faster than any racer in all the NHRA’s car classes. This also led to one of his nicknames: The King of Speed.


In 1996, he won the Top Fuel championship, becoming the first racer to win who championships in two different racing classes in the NHRA. Despite the win, Bernstein refused the title and gave it to Alan Johnson in honor of his brother’s, Blaine Johnson, passing. Johnson had been a phenomenal racer, and Bernstein believed his win was tainted as he hadn’t had the chance to compete, and win, against the famous racer. Bernstein would then reclaim his Top Fuel championship in 2001.

Bernstein decided to retire in 2002, and instead had his son Brandon take over. He returned to racing not long after, though, as a substitute driver for his son who had broken his back. He continued to win four Top Fuel events that season, and although rumours spread that he was returning to racing, Bernstein returned to coaching and management of his team for the next few years.

A comeback was in the works, however, and he returned to racing in 2006, driving the Monster Energy Dodge Charger for his team. Unfortunately, his return to racing was less than spectacular. He failed to qualify for the 2007 opening events, and his racing technique had suffered from retirement. Although he steadily improved over the season, he retired yet again and then dismantled the team in 2008.

Bernstein went on to work for the Professional Racers Organisation (PRO), which was made up of a group of NHRA racers, technicians, mechanics, and owners. The group has helped changed the safety standards of NHRA racing. Following the deaths of both Eric Medlen and Scott Kalitta, Bernstein and a group of his peers helped develop an engine sensor. The sensor is designed to detect engine backfire, and shuts off the fuel pump while releasing the driver’s parachute in the hopes of preventing serious injury or death.

Bernstein is an inspiration to aspiring racers around the world, and proof that hard work and dedication to your dream can pay off. He’s also an icon for helping to establish safer conditions for drag racers everywhere. It’s for this reason that we at Shalom Life have inducted him into this week’s Jewish Hall of Fame.

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