Words and Photos by Phil Hutchinson
Columbus Photos by Kevin Pepera
It took two cars, a few thousand miles and two sanctioning bodies, but Montpelier, VT racer John Benoit took two wins in the space of 6 days. First Benoit kicks it off with a win in Top Sportsman at the JEGS NHRA SPORTSnationals in Columbus, OH on Monday after a rainout on Sunday forced the finals to go an extra day. Then follows the Ohio win with a victory in MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman at the PDRA Mid Atlantic Showdown at VMP in Dinwiddie, VA the following Saturday.
And again, I cannot mention it enough, this was with two different cars, two different tracks, and quarter vs. eighth mile racing.
The JEGS event in Columbus was second of a double header with a Division Three Lucas Oil points race first then the big show, the SPORTSnationals. “We lost in the second round of the Lucas race against Jeff Melnick’s Avenger,” Benoit said. “He put a 0.004 light on me and I ended up breaking out. Now come Monday of the JEGS race, I have Melnick again this time in the semi finals. It’s a whole different day with cooler temperatures and you know what? He straps an 0.002 light on me but this time it was his turn to break out as we both went too quick with the good air.”
Benoit’s ’15 Corvette went on to defeat the ’69 Camaro of Chris Osborn with a hole shot aided 6.573 on a 6.56 dial to Osborn’s better but later 6.689 on a 6.68 dial but Benoit’s RT made the difference at the stripe.
Benoit added, “We haven’t run many D3 events but everybody there made us feel welcome. Great track to race at.”
After the win in Columbus, John and his wife Pam had little time to get back to the home shop in Concord, NC and get ready for VMP.
Pam said,” The race in Columbus didn’t finish until Monday morning so we knew we had a lot to do before leaving for the PDRA race in Virginia. It's amazing how a win can make all the difference. Loading up after the race and the 8-hour drive didn’t seem so bad. We got back to the shop Monday night and had to wash the truck and trailer, do laundry and grocery shopping, unload the Corvette and load the Camaro and we left for the PDRA race Wednesday morning.”
The team arrived at VMP late Wednesday and by Thursday’s test and tune, were joined by team member Brett Pierce and fellow racer Chris Rini. After qualifying the Camaro #1 in the MagnaFuel Elite 16 Top Sportsman field at a 3.804 @ 199.88 MPH, Benoit was on his way to his first career PDRA win.
“In round one I was racing Tim Molnar and he went red by a thousandth,” Benoit said. “This just tells you need a lot of luck in racing because in the next round I was perfect .000 racing Dave Brown. By the same amount that Molnar went red, I could have lost there or if I staged the car an eighth of an inch closer, I would have gone red.”
“In round three I had Cheyenne Stanley and he is good. He’s won his share and it was a good race.” Stanley, who won at GALOT, had a better light, an .031 to Benoit’s .033 but on the top end Benoit ran closer to his 3.85 with a 3.89 to Stanley’s 4.103 on a 3.97.
Benoit, who had been in two other PDRA finals and had never won, was up against one of the best fast bracket racers in the country in the finals, Dewayne Silance from Jacksonville NC in his ’68 Camaro. Silance, who was coming off a win at Darlington had, like Benoit, been chopping down the tree all day, got off the line first with a .021 RT to Benoit’s later .059 but couldn’t run the number as Benoit’s ’17 Camaro put down a 3.888 on his 3.85 dial to Silance’s off pace 4.148 on his 4.05 dial.
“I talked with Dewayne after the race and he told me the car shook and he jumped on his override to make up for it but it wasn’t enough. I have raced Dewayne for years and he is one of the best. I feel fortunate to have won that round against him.” Benoit added, “I have known Dewayne since we had our first Bickel car built. My ’57 Chevy was on a jig and he had a Camaro getting built by Bickel at the same time and we got to know each other very well. We’ve been good friends since. And we both run Charlie Buck motors.”
First and foremost I have to give credit to Brandon Switzer from Switzer Dynamics for the car’s performance. The man is not just good on the induction system; he knows the car from the front bumper to the wheelie bars. We are so lucky to be associated with him. I’ve never met anyone like Brandon. I think he is a true genius. He makes all the calls. Thanks to Brandon, we ran a best of 3.74 @ 202 MPH which may be a record for Top Sportsman. ”
“All our motors are built by Charlie Buck out of King NC. Ever since the early 2000’s Charlie has been building our motors. He is such an honest and caring guy. I got to meet Charlie through Dewayne Silance as they are best friends so I owe him a lot for the performance we get.”
Benoit, who races Jerry Bickel cars exclusively, uses a 762 cubic inch 2015 C7 Corvette for ¼ mile racing and a 959 cube ’17 Camaro for the PDRA and other 1/8-mile events.
Benoit said, “The Camaro utilizes a six step nitrous system on a 959 cube motor and a Todd Tutterow built Ty-Drive and Lenco transmission with a lock up convertor. I love the Ty-Drive as it has that lock up and gives us big speeds.
Quite a nice piece between that and the Lenco. The Corvette uses a three speed ATI Transmission and a smaller 762 cubic inch Chevy.”
Benoit adds, “Pam handles the computer, figures out the weather, and tells me what the dial should be. Just a major part of the team. Totally indispensible.”
Pam adds, “John and I have raced since 1994. We started out with a 1955 Chevy that ran around 10 seconds in the 1/4 mile. For years it was just the 2 of us with our 2 sons, Stephen and Peter. They ran junior dragsters. We raced every weekend at New England Dragway. The whole family couldn’t wait until the next Friday to go back. Then we started doing NHRA Divisionals in Super Gas before moving to Top Sportsman.” Pam adds,” I have always tracked the weather and figured the dial in. It's funny to think about what we have learned over the years. From understanding how much the weather affects the car for a dial or when we did Super Gas racing doing the math to decide what to do with the throttle stop.”
Benoit would like to recognize Jerry Bickel Race Cars for the quality work they do and also wants to thank JEGS for putting on such a great race in Columbus.
Finally Benoit adds, “PDRA racing is fantastic, Pam and I cannot thank Judy and Tommy Franklin enough for giving us a place to race. We are going 200 MPH at the 1/8 mile and we are bracket racing! Without them we wouldn’t have a place to race our car. There is no other place to run fast Top Sportsman cars like at a PDRA event. And there are a lot of racers that want to race this class. We have over 80 cars at some races. And the racers themselves are just the best.”