Matco Tools SuperNationals
Computer glitch spoils Benza's debut
Englishtown, Sunday: A mysterious glitch in Bob Benza's on-board computer system ruined the debut weekend of the 41-year-old's full-time professional driving career on the competitive NHRA Championship Drag Racing circuit.
Benza, from Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., was attempting to qualify for the 32nd annual Matco Tools SuperNationals at his home track of Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, but the unexpected gremlins caused him to miss the exceptionally quick elimination field by .098 seconds. The BNB Racing crew added a digital oil gauge to the instrumentation panel of their sleek, 2001 Pontiac Grand Am prior to the event's first qualifying session and never recovered from the move as all data-gathering attempts in each subsequent time trail session were foiled.
"We're very upset with the way things turned out," Benza said. "We took delivery of a brand-new Frank Iaconio motor just before this event and we were excited about the potential of our car. But our Racepak system totally failed and I had to tune for every run by the seat of my pants. That may have worked in the old days but the competition in this class is too tight to get by with that approach these days. Basically, every tune-up I used this weekend was a guess. I never had one bit of data to analyze."
The "Old School" style of tuning Benza employed left him wishing for more after each session. He finally finished the weekend with quarter-mile numbers of 7.009 seconds at 198.29 mph, well off the 6.911-second pace necessary for qualifying at this event.
"The only bright spots from this race are the numbers this new motor is producing," said Benza, a multiple-event winner at this racetrack. "Across the board we showed an average increase of 50 horsepower. I think our top speed here shows what we should be capable of doing in the future. To reach 198 mph when the car rattled the tires as much as it did on the front end of the track during that particular run is very encouraging.
"I'm not happy at all to have had this happen but we'll just have to move forward and redeem ourselves at the next event. We've pulled all the on-board circuitry off the car and we even purged the computer in the trailer of all the Racepak software. We're going to start all over with new stuff. I don't want to take any chances. Hopefully, we'll be back up to speed by Topeka. If not, we'll definitely be ready to go by Chicago."
Benza to begin pro career at home
Englishtown, pre-race: The newest driver in the competitive world of the National Hot Rod Association's (NHRA) Pro Stock class is primed and ready to unveil his team to the world at a racetrack he calls home. Bob Benza, a 41-year-old bridge builder from Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., first cut his drag racing teeth at New Jersey's historic Old Bridge Township Raceway Park as a sportsman racer in the late 1970s. Now he returns for the 32nd annual Matco Tools SuperNationals, May 17-20, to start a full-time pro career.
With a brand-new 2001 Pontiac Grand Am outfitted with the latest Frank Iaconio motor, a crew of seasoned wrench-turners, and a second-to-none transporter and mobile race shop, Benza finally feels he has what it takes to battle in drag racing's toughest category.
"We're ready to go," said Benza. "I believe we've built a first-class operation here. From the crew, to our new Pontiac Grand Am and Competition rig, to the new engine from Frank Iaconio, I'm convinced we have all the necessary pieces in place.
"We've tested well this year and made a couple of great passes in Atlanta at the last national event, but we just didn't have the horsepower we needed. Now we do so it's time to hit the track and see what happens. It's an exciting moment for us."
Old Bridge Township Raceway Park is a comfortable official starting point for Benza's full-time pro career. As a sportsman racer in the NHRA's Competition Eliminator class, Benza spent numerous weekend's at the venerable old track over the past two decades, winning several match races and divisional meets. He even scored his first National Event win in Englishtown when he collected the trophy of the 1986 NHRA Summernationals.
"It's my home track," Benza said. "I have so many special memories there. They'd hold Modified Comp races and the best 40 or so cars in the country would show up. I was lucky enough to get my first win at one of those races. Then in 1986 I won the season-opening Div. 1 points meet and came back a few months later and won the Summernationals. The following year I was runner-up at the points meet and a semifinalist at the national event. You just tend to feel comfortable racing at a place where you've had success in the past.
"It's exciting to go back now and open this new chapter in my life and my racing career. It's a good feeling to know we have the power and all the other pieces you need to compete with the best teams. I feel confident. We've been to the Winner's Circle before. We've raced in the finals of national events. I know what pressure to expect and I'm confident in my driving ability. It'll be fun to put it all on the track and see what transpires."
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