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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features : people, places & past May 28, 2016

9/17/2013 2:08:00 PM
Full Throttle: Father-son team drag races in PSCA
Camp Verde resident Joe Bennett stands in front of his 1973 Chevrolet Vega, the car he drives in PSCA races for Team Bennett. VVN/Bill Helm
Camp Verde resident Joe Bennett stands in front of his 1973 Chevrolet Vega, the car he drives in PSCA races for Team Bennett. VVN/Bill Helm
Joe Bennett, left, and his son Cody Bennett, celebrate a 2011 Mean Street Championship in the Pacific Street Car Association. Photo courtesy of Monte Brown.
Joe Bennett, left, and his son Cody Bennett, celebrate a 2011 Mean Street Championship in the Pacific Street Car Association. Photo courtesy of Monte Brown.

Bill Helm

CAMP VERDE - It was in Ottumwa, Iowa, the home of Radar O'Reilly, where he first fell in love with fast cars.

He was not even old enough to drive, but he remembers it as if it happened first thing this morning.

Riding in a 1967 Plymouth Fury 4-speed, he says the car started to grab gears.

"It still gives me goose bumps," says 59-year-old Smokin' Joe Bennett, who makes his home in Camp Verde.

Joe also looks back at a time when he rode along in his cousin's boyfriend's 1959 Studebaker Super Hawk.

"I was so little. It had a 4-speed shifter I'd swear was as tall as the ceiling," Joe recalls. "It must have been me being short. I loved it."

Joe's father and big brother J.R. were also into cars.

"Dad had some neat cars," Joe says. "He had a 1962 Ford Galaxy and a new 1962 Ford Fairlane 500, black with red interior. And he had a 1957 Buick special. He didn't mind burning a little rubber too! And J.R., he let me drive his car. He owned a '56 Ford wagon with 3 deuces He really did teach me a lot about driving."

Nowadays, Joe races with his 22-year-old son Cody.

Since the age of 12, Cody has been racing with his father. At 14, Cody began learning how to drive the car.

"It was a real rush," Cody says of the first time he drove his father's racer. "There was a lot of fear because the car has a lot of power. My dad was standing next to the drag strip. Dad was running along side the car. It must have been nerve-wracking to him."

Father and son make up Team Bennett. Drag racing is what Team Bennett does. And Team Bennett does it well, having won the 2011 Mean Street Championship in the Pacific Street Car Association.

"I like roundy-rounds and racing on a dirt track," Joe admits. "But I've always liked drag racing the best. I could go every week if there was a track nearby."

For Joe, Tucson International Raceway is the closest track. He wishes there was a drag strip somewhere in the Verde Valley.

"We need a place to race," Joe says.

With one child and another on the way, Cody, who lives in Lake Elsinore, Calif., does not race as often as he used to. Nor does he see his father as often as he would like.

"Being able to race with dad has helped build our relationship," Cody says. "We make an awesome team. We get to spend quality time together. He's been my wingman, gives me good advice. It's an awesome time."

For the sixth consecutive season, Team Bennett has been a member of the PSCA. As far as drag racing leagues are concerned, PSCA considers itself 'the west coast's real deal.' Not limited to the west coast, PSCA races also take place in Colorado and New Mexico.

Joe has been racing cars since the 1970s. Many car aficionados that like Chevys dislike Fords. And vice versa. But Joe has owned both.

In 2004, Joe paid $400 for his current car, a 1973 Chevrolet Vega. His Vega has a 408 cubic-inch small block Chevy engine. But when he bought it, Joe recalls, "It had no motor, had no transmission. And it had weeds growing out of it."

"We do everything on that car together," Cody says. "That car is our baby."

Occasionally, Joe drives a Mustang owned by his neighbor Gordon Harrington. Harrington cannot walk these days, but his Mustang is configured so he can drive it.

"When I was looking for a driver, it had to be Joe," says Harrington. "Because he knows how to race. He has worked on getting my car set up and coaching me on driving (racing). I have raced before, but when one becomes disabled, everything has to be relearned. I have to use hand controls and have an RPM switch to shift. That is why Bennett drives in the big races. He knows what to do to win."

A year ago, Joe and his girlfriend Melinda Stange moved to Camp Verde. Stange says she enjoys watching Joe race.

"It's just exciting to see him out there competing," Stange says. "He enjoys it so much. It's so in his blood."

Stange has seen Team Bennett race four times. If she didn't get so nervous watching Joe race, she would see him compete more often.

"If [the car] veers off any, it's scary, because the car is so fast, you hope he gets back on track," Stange says.

Truth is, Stange is not the only one on the edge of her seat at the races.

"It's pretty nerve-wracking, until you get into the water box," Joe says. "Then you're off into your own little world."

"That's how I feel every time I race."

Taylor Waste

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Article comment by: Slater Slater

Nothing like a speed rush.What a great way to teach a son that racing is for the track,not the street.
Go get-em boys

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