Gainesville: Bob Benza Gatornationals preview

New-look team has Benza energized GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 13) -- Pro Stock driver Bob Benza will make his 2002 debut this weekend at the 33rd annual Mac Tools Gatornationals with a completely new outlook. Benza has taken what he hopes is the ...

New-look team has Benza energized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 13) -- Pro Stock driver Bob Benza will make his 2002 debut this weekend at the 33rd annual Mac Tools Gatornationals with a completely new outlook. Benza has taken what he hopes is the final step towards the top ranks of drag racing's toughest class by hiring respected tuner Billy Wagner as his full-time crew chief. By combining Wagner with his brand-new Don Ness-built 2002 Pontiac Grand Am and a powerful 500-cubic-inch Frank Iaconio engine, Benza hopes his best days of racing are straight ahead.

"We're very pumped up heading into Gainesville," said Benza, who has raced part-time with his wife and partner Nancy for the last four years. "We made some big changes in the off-season and we're optimistic they'll translate to better days on the race track. We'll certainly find out very soon. Gainesville should provide a very good test for us."

A native of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., Benza recently spent some time with his car, completing several test laps in an effort for he and his crew to get a better feel for the new equipment.

"Preseason testing went extremely well," Benza said. "Right out of the trailer with a brand-new car we went straight down the track and posted a 6.89 at 200 mph. That was a very encouraging start. We actually weren't trying to set any elapsed time records but we did run a best of 6.892 at 200.35 mph during the session. The main focus was to get the chassis sorted out and to give Billy some time with the car. As expected, he performed flawlessly. All in all, the car's transition times were good and we were very pleased with the entire test."

Benza's last outing in NHRA competition occurred Oct. 5 in Reading, Pa., when he recorded career-best numbers of 6.868 seconds at 200.80 mph. It was the 42-year-old veteran racer's first official pass over 200 mph.

"I would expect we'll lower those numbers right away," Benza said of his personal-best marks. "We could have stepped on it in testing and run mid-6.8s without any problem. And this car has already shown us it will run 200-mph laps at will. We need to be in that range if we expect to compete with the top teams. I know Gainesville will be quick and if we want to make an impact, we'll need to be quick and fast as well."

Former crew chief Andy Enax, Jr., Benza's brother-in-law, remains with the team as an assistant to Wagner. Tom Vollbrecht and Nancy Benza fill out the crew.

Several hours of the Mac Tools Gatornationals will air in primetime on ESPN2. A recap of all the qualifying action will air from 8-10 p.m. (ET), Saturday, with a repeat showing from 4:30-6 a.m. (ET), Sunday morning. The elimination rounds will be broadcast from 5-7 p.m. (ET), Sunday evening with an encore performance 2:30-4:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 19.

-gm/bg-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Benza