A true drag racing icon is set to “light up” the upcoming June 20 – 22 Russo and Steele auction at Newport Beach – none other than Kenny Bernstein’s original Budweiser King AA/Funny Car, marking the beginning of the longest-running and most successful sponsorship in motorsports.
After a self-imposed hiatus to focus on his restaurant business, Kenny Bernstein returned to drag racing full-time and full-throttle in 1978 with his fully-equipped Chelsea King Funny Car. Commissioned by racing-engine legend Ed Pink, the Chelsea King was built and prepared by the best using only the best, with a leading-edge chassis by Jim Hume and Pat Foster at Van Nuys, California’s H & H Racecraft, an Ed Pink-prepped Keith Black Hemi and 8-71 blower with Enderle injectors, backed by a Crowerglide clutch, Lenco two-speed transmission, and narrowed 9-inch Ford rear end. The sleek Plymouth Arrow-derived body was beautifully finished with Candy Red paint by Bill Carter and lettered in gold leaf by Glenn of Circus Circus.
Debuting in time for the 1978 NHRA Summernationals, Bernstein and the Chelsea King went on to capture the IHRA Winston Funny Car Championship in 1979. That year’s postponed NHRA Cajun Nationals provided a window for a quick trip to St. Louis and Anheuser-Busch headquarters, where Bernstein successfully pitched a sponsorship deal with the brewing giant to launch the 30-year Budweiser King racing dynasty starting with the 1980 season. An incredible string of wins and records followed, including 69 NHRA National victories, four consecutive NHRA World Funny Car Championships (1985 through 1988), and two NHRA Top Fuel championships (1996 and 2001), while giving Anheuser-Busch immense value for its sponsorship dollars.
For 1980, the Chelsea King was refinished in fresh Budweiser King livery by Tom Stratton with design and graphics by Kenny Youngblood. Eventually replaced by a new Dodge Omni-bodied car, the Chelsea King/Budweiser King was retired in 1981 and sold by Kenny Bernstein to Don Goldie, who ran it in the Montana area. The current owners acquired the car in 2004 and completed a full and highly researched restoration, electing to return the car to its 1980 Budweiser King livery over the next two years. Mr. Goldie built the 480 cubic-inch engine and supplied its period components.
Once completed, Kenny Bernstein was reunited with his Chelsea King/Budweiser King at Arizona’s Firebird Raceway, with other high-profile appearances at the John Force Racing Reunion, 2009 SEMA show, and California Hot Rod Reunion “Cacklefest.” When new, the car appeared in a multitude of magazines including Car Craft, Hot Rod, and Popular Hot Rodding and most recently, it was the subject of Drag Racer and Super Rod features and attracted further coverage from as far away as Japan and Sweden. Beautifully restored to period glory, it is a touchstone to the longest-running and most successful sponsorship in motorsports history and the foundation of the Budweiser King legacy.