TWO LUCKY GUYS AND THEIR MODIFIEDS
It all started just about a year ago.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway was hosting its Vintage
Celebration, and a surprise entry showed up all the way from Redondo
Beach, California. It was Jimmy Dilamarter, the ultra-athletic,
seventy-something, former crew chief and current business manager
for Parnelli Jones. As a fun project, Jimmy had just built himself a
drop-dead beautiful East Coast Modified, never mind that he had
never even seen one in action. He modeled it generally after the
older Troyer Pinto style, but, with its impeccable construction and
detail, it is eye-candy to the experienced racer. He had just towed
it across the country to shake it down at Loudon. Parnelli was with
him and signed lots of his books. Needless to say, they drew quite a
One of the on-lookers was 55-year-old Ricky “Newt”
Bennett, a wired Danbury, Connecticut, resident who ran his first
race in a go-kart in 1955. Twenty-five years later, he spent a
weekend on Bob Cuneo’s jig with Ceech Garbe, welding up an early
copy of a Bo-Dyn chassis. Out of money when it came time for the tin
work, they dragged an old
Ford coupe body out of the pile and
plopped it on.
By any definition, that car, so modestly
conceived, compiled some kind of resume for itself over the seasons.
There was feature win after feature win at Stafford, Connecticut,
with notable wheelmen like Randy LaJoie, Bo Gunning, and Danny
Gallulo aboard. Then in 1991, Newt’s son, Ricky Jr., hustled it
–clad in Dodge Challenger skin –
to Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
As vintage racing ramped up in the 2000s, the time-honored coupe
body was back, and Newt has been an aggressively fast participant.
That day at Loudon, he and Jimmy did lots of laps together and
became fast friends.
|Jimmy and Newt discuss what no
one had done before.
(Albert Wong Photo,
phone conversation over the winter, the two got talking about a
Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational to be run this summer at IMS.
They called and were somewhat surprised to be invited to attend
without hesitation. (It may have helped that Jimmy knows Tony
Parella, the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association president, and
that Parnelli became the event’s Grand Marshal).
So, on June
4, Jimmy and Newt met halfway between their homes, unloaded, and
became the first two ever to tour the 2.5 miles of Indy in
Modifieds. And you can take it to the bank that both of them are
still grinning. Jimmy says, “We were on an honor system – to do what
we wanted down the straights, but to slow in the turns, totally
honoring the guy in front of you.
“Of course I’ve been around
Indy a hundred times, doing track drying and riding in pace cars, so
I thought I would know what to expect. But, when I stepped on that
throttle in that car I had built, I was just stunned. Indy is so
fast. And what they all say is true. Turn three is fairly open, but
that turn one! When you go down the front stretch, it is
like Main Street and a left onto Elm. You can’t see any of the turn
because of all those grandstands. You feel like you are in a
|Jimmy takes the green.
(Albert Wong Photo, Dilamarter Collection)
“I got going a conservative 133 or
134 mph, and, all of a sudden, Ricky went by me like I was standing
like a post. We had really done nothing special to the car to get it
ready, so I was being careful. Then I started going deeper and
deeper into one, and I figure I got up to about 147. It was just as
thrilling for me to do that as it was to win the 500 as a mechanic.
And 147 was a thrill enough!”
Like Jimmy, Ricky did little to
prepare for his Indiana adventure. “I even kept in my gears from
Loudon, which, of course, is just a mile, not even half as big. I
figured that would keep me from getting going too quick. “I just
can’t tell you how nice it was to go down that backstretch and set
the car into that third turn. My car didn’t even wiggle. In the
first warm-ups, I think I scared the guys a little by hot rodding.
“As I got used to it, I’d keep it at 7000 rpm down the back,
which was about half throttle. I became aware of some problems. I
was concerned about cutting a rear tire with body squat. I will
definitely build some little spoilers for the front tires if we can
go back next year. That front end was lifting at speed, and the
steering became pretty touchy.
“On the front stretch a few times
I did take it up a little over 8500 rpm. Apparently, someone clocked
me there on a measured distance and had me at 173.8 mph. In any
case, I can tell you this, it is an experience every racer should
If Newt and his antiquarian #83 were really turning
over 170 mph, he was in rarified space. Who knows for sure how fast
the Modifieds used to roar around the big track at Pocono, at
Trenton, down the straight at Watkins Glen, or in the days when
superspeedway-equipped Mods ran down the backstretch at Daytona?
What Modified enthusiast would not have given anything to be
with Jimmy and Ricky on their grand Indy adventure. And could it
also possibly be that on that trip the little #83 coupe went as fast
as a Modified ever has on a closed course?
|As seen in the rear-tire
clearance with the #6 at speed, both Jimmy and Newt
had to be careful not to cut tires. Both cars,
however, ran flawlessly.
(Albert Wong Photo, Dilamarter Collection)
© 2014 Lew Boyd
- Coastal 181
you were interested in this Tearoff, you might enjoy
the book below: