The world looks a little different to Kenny Bernstein these days.

After 30 years banking on Budweiser as the sponsor of his National Hot Rod Association team, the longtime drag racing star and team owner is sponsor hunting.

And he couldn’t have found a harder time to do it.

“We’ll go hard at trying to find a major sponsor,” Bernstein said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Everybody knows what the business climate is right now, but the thing will keep going.”

Bernstein, a six-time champion, remains the only driver to have won multiple titles in both Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters, and he was the first driver to exceed 300 mph in competition. But this is a very different challenge than he’s faced before.

Bernstein, who also owned teams in NASCAR and Champ Car in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said the decision announced last week by the St. Louis division of Anheiser-Busch InBev, which makes Budweiser beer, to end its NHRA sponsorship was not the shock that some people thought.

“Look at the economy,” Bernstein said. “And a new company (Belgian brewer InBev) bought Anheiser-Busch. So it didn’t surprise me.

“We’ve actually known for a while, but we were real careful about it for everybody’s sake,” he added. “But it did give us a chance to start talking to some people.”

Bernstein said he has been negotiating with two unnamed companies “that have said they would like to pursue this with us. But nothing’s close.”

The 64-year-old Bernstein expected to retire eventually, saying, “It’s only going to probably be a couple, three more years of this for me.”

But the complication is that son Brandon, who began his NHRA career in 2002, is now the driver of what will remain the Budweiser King until the end of this season.

Through the first three events of 2009, the younger Bernstein is second in the Top Fuel category, trailing leader Antron Brown by 20 points.

Between the father and son, they have amassed 85 event victories for Budweiser in the longest team-sponsor relationship in major league racing – surpassing Richard Petty’s 28 years with STP.

“Sure, it’s going to be different, but this is what I do and what we do,” the elder Bernstein said. “This is how I make my living.

“It would be different if it was just me. If we can’t put something together, Brandon is a good driver, capable of winning races and championships, and I’m sure he would wind up racing for another team – a good team. But I would prefer to keep this team together and leave something good here for Brandon.”


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