#10 Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson isn't going to arrive at Richmond International Raceway until early Friday morning. Instead of going to the track on Thursday as he does most weekends on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, Benson will make a whirlwind visit to his hometown of Grand Rapids where he will watch his father John Benson's induction into the 45-member Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday night. Benson plans to fly to Richmond on Friday when practice and qualifying begin for Saturday night's 400-lap race.
The elder Benson enjoyed a long racing career and posted more than 75 victories including 1966 National Supermodified Championship in Oswego, N.Y. - the "crown jewel" of the modified series at the time. He also started and continues to operate Benson Speed Equipment in Grand Rapids. Benson ran only one Winston Cup race in his career preferring local racing that didn't involve the travel commitments or time away from the family.
The younger Benson followed in his father's footsteps working in the race shop selling parts and even welding. By the time he was 19 years old it was time for him to replace Dad as the family racer and he began working his way through late models earning track championships. He went on to the American Speed Association where he won the rookie of the year award in 1990 and the championship in 1993. He went to NASCAR where he won rookie of the year titles in Winston Cup and the Busch Series as well as Busch title in 1995.
Today the 64-year old Benson works in his race shop during the week and spends weekend watching his son race in NASCAR. Joining Benson in the 2001 class include two-time world boxing champion Roger Mayweather, former baseball pitcher Dave Rozema plus three other local sports figures.
* He has posted 10 top-10 finishes in 2001. He has scored four top-10 finishes in his 11 races at Richmond with his best being a sixth-place finish in May. He finished seventh in this race one year ago.
Dad's Hall of Fame Induction:
"I think its pretty cool that my Dad's being recognized in the Grand Rapids area for doing a lot to promote racing. You know he has raced up there for a lot of years and has a lot of fan support. I laugh, because he still has a ton of fan support even today. He signs as many autographs as I do when I go back up there. It's going be a pretty neat deal for me and everyone else and I'm sure it's going to be a neat deal for my Dad."
Benson Comparing His Career To His Father's:
"The difference between what he has done and what I am doing is that what I have done has been in the eye of the public a lot more than his stuff. He has done the same things as far as winning track championships and all that. It's just that he didn't want to do the travel thing. He wanted to say in town and raise his family. He ran Winston Cup once and that was enough for him. He had a chance to run Indy cars and didn't want to do it. He's had a lot of opportunities that a lot of drivers don't get but he decided it was best to stay home, live a normal life and stay involved in racing. I chose to take a different route than he did. I wouldn't change it and I don't think he would do anything different if he had a chance to do everything over again."
John Benson Sr.:
"If I would have made racing a full-time job, I could have made a living out of it. But I wanted to be home and watch the kids grow up, and I didn't care about traveling all over to tracks after working all week for 44 years with the railroad. Most of the good drivers running in NASCAR today don't do it for the money. They do it for the competition; to prove they can run with the best of them. That was why I drove. I didn't race for money, and I didn't care to go big-time. I just enjoyed the local racing and the fun of it."
Benson On Richmond:
"I like Richmond. If somebody were going to build a new track I wish they would build it like Richmond. Most of us like tracks like Richmond because you can race hard, beat and bang just a little, not have to worry about staying in or keeping up with the draft. If you can get your car handling right and you have a good motor then you are going to the front.