THE JOHNNY BENSONS
AND THEIR SUPERS
poppin’ up since that TEAROFF “Ode
to Senior Supers” was posted. Supers have a way of driving deep
into the soul, preciously protected by lasting memories. Take what
happened a couple of weeks ago.
2008 Craftsman Truck
Champion Johnny Benson Jr. of Cornelius, N.C., pulled into Seekonk
(Mass.) Speedway on a night off, October 2. He’d never been to
Seekonk before, but he would challenge it in the most brutish of
cars – an ISMA supermodified.
Benson had dabbled with supers
along the way. He had never won, but he had been bitten sorely in a
grinding crash in Michigan. This night, though, was his. He whopped
the field aboard Mark Lichty’s #74, outdueling ISMA megastar Chris
Benson was clearly moved. The first moment he could,
he disappeared to call his dad to say he’d won.
When Johnny was knee-high to a hub cap, Johnny Benson Sr. was one
hot item in super circles in the upper Midwest. Senior was also a
starring actor in one of the most often discussed performances in
“Back in 1965,” he recalls, “I was
driving down the street – about 70 miles an hour, arm out the window
– thinking about a super I wanted to build. I felt the pressures on
my palm when it was flat against the wind and then horizontal to the
ground. I’m going to use that wind, I thought.
“You see, it
was a tough time back then. Lots of guys were buying Indy roadsters
– beautiful things, all chromed out, that you could get for around
$30,000. They were designed to go down the straight with those
little Offies with no drag. I thought they were missing the boat on
“I incorporated as much downforce as I could in
the roof – and a lot in the fuselage of the car.
itself was just basic. We welded and welded. Had no pipe bender, so
all the joints were fabricated square. We even made our own axle
tubes. The whole thing weighed 1400 pounds soaking wet when we were
“The motor was a 327 stroked out to about 383. We put
some big valves in it, but concentrated more on reliability than
speed. It had injection with fuel.
“I had a 35-gallon tank
out back and one 15-gallon tank along each side of the driveshaft. I
was careful about that. It worried me about how guys would put 55-
gallon drums on their cars with just metal strapping for long races.
“When it was ready to go, we’d spent $3500 total. To be honest,
though, the magneto may have been used…
“We went to Berlin
Speedway near Grand Rapids with it and it went okay, so we decided
to take it to the Oswego Classic in 1966. A 13-hour drive.
“We got there, and I felt pretty self-conscious among all that fancy
equipment with this little dog we’d welded and ground on. And we
weren’t used to 200-lappers. But it worked. We got the pole with a
new track record.
“The race was a shootout with Bentley
Warren in the Purdy Deuce, Gordon Dukes in a roadster, and me. I won
it, totally wiped out from no power steering and not knowing what to
“What a time in racing that was. There were about 80
cars at Oswego that day – and they all were different.
little #21 of ours was something. One night I rolled it at Berlin,
turned it back over, cleared out the fuel, put in some oil, went
back out, and won the feature.
“That kind of thing will never happen
again. Things are so different now. Innovators – guys like Jim
Shampine and me, I guess – caused problems by making the cars faster
and faster. The promoters had to slow them down because people were
getting hurt. Rules made the cars get more and more the same. Soon
they become all alike – like the old time midgets did, and the
excitement goes away from the racing.
“Johnny Jr. did call me
after that race at Seekonk. He knows I disapprove slightly of his
running supermodifieds these days, but I sure was happy for him.
After all, I knew just how he felt!
“You know, a race car is
a race car. I’ve built and raced them all. But a super is the most
basic to build and to drive, and it’s the fastest.
you brung has always been best.”
© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181