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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | MOTOR SPORTS

At 50, Benson Still Big Wheel in Racing

August 02, 2000|DARIN ESPER

Although he does not race as much as he used to, Joe Benson of La Crescenta has not lost his passion for the sport.

Benson, 50, who has been a rock 'n' roll disc jockey in Los Angeles since 1980 and has raced competitively since 1987, decided to curtail his racing following the birth of his daughter, Jenna, in 1996.

"I made a conscious decision to do things that did a little bit less economic damage," Benson said. "Economically, I can afford to take [my 1994 Nissan 300ZX] to Buttonwillow [Raceway in Bakersfield], get more seat time and have more fun."

But Benson has not slowed down.

Besides driving the Nissan in road-racing events around the Southland, Benson owns a 1957 Corvette dragster, driven in National Hot Rod Assn. events by Randy Balough of Thousand Oaks. Benson also is the public-address announcer at California Speedway in Fontana and makes personal appearances at local race tracks to sign autographs and talk with fans.

Benson's popular on-the-air Sunday night race report, which evolved over the course of his 32-year broadcasting career, fell by the wayside when he was hired by ARROW 93 (KCBS-FM, 93.1) in August, 1997 for the morning drive-time shift.

The station's format does not allow Benson to do a formal race report, but he mentions race results on the air whenever possible, just as he did at his first radio job in 1968, and the report can be found on the Internet at www.unclejoe.com.

"The boss has made allowances to do 60 to 90 seconds at a time," Benson said. "Pepsi has been a good sponsor, and their 'Win With Jeff [Gordon]' contest has been very good for us in terms of talking about racing on the air."

Benson, who became hooked on racing as a teenager in Illinois when he built his own hot rod and hung out at local race tracks, does live broadcasts from major races such as the Long Beach Grand Prix, interviewing drivers in between songs.

Having children was only part of Benson's decision to spend less time on the track. He ran across the same dilemma that has plagued racers from the sport's inception.

"I've already been through the wringer lining up sponsors," Benson said. "The sponsors are just as happy having appearances and autographs as they are having me out on the track."

The Improved Touring Endurance-class races Benson competes in do not pay a purse.

"It's just ego to see who goes fastest," Benson explained.

Benson, who finished fourth in the 1994 Mini Stock Racing Assn. Pro Four Modified points standings at Saugus Speedway, says he missed competition the most when he first reduced his schedule.

At the fourth annual Ford Los Angeles Street Race, Benson took members of the media on high-speed tours of the one-mile course at Exposition Park and was so enamored of the vehicles he began exploring a deal to compete in the Thunder event scheduled for Sept. 21-24 in the parking lot of Edison International Field in Anaheim.

When he makes appearances, Benson is reminded by fans that his on-track presence is missed.

"It's shocking how many people come up to me and tell me they remember me doing this or that and it's something from 10 years ago," Benson said. "That's flattering.

"That's one of the things I miss by not running on ovals on a regular basis."

*

Jay Drake, formerly of Val Verde, dominated the seven-race Penzoil Indiana Sprint Week series that is part of the United States Auto Club Stoops Freightliner Sprint Car series, with four victories and two second-place finishes.

Drake finished with 429 points and defending champion Tony Elliott of Kokomo, Ind., was second with 353.

Cory Kruseman of Ventura scored his first victory in the final race Sunday at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, which propelled him into fifth place with 290.

Kruseman passed pole-sitter Drake at the start and went wire-to-wire.

*

Ron Hornaday Jr., formerly of Palmdale, finished sixth in the Carquest Auto Parts 250 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division race at Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis, but he did not gain on fellow rookie of the year candidate Kevin Harvick of Bakersfield, who won the race.

*

Hornaday's son, Ron III, is scheduled to make his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut Thursday night in the Power Stroke 200 at Indianapolis Raceway Park, in a truck owned by the two-time Craftsman Truck series champion.

Hornaday Sr. won Winston West championships in 1963 and '64.

*

Defending NASCAR Winston West champion Sean Woodside of Saugus strengthened his hold on third in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour standings by finishing third in the Food 4 Less 150 Saturday at Irwindale Speedway.

Legendary chassis-builder Keith Spangler of Chatsworth finished fifth in the race, won by Rocky Nash of Murrieta.

Frank Maronski Jr. of Quartz Hill was sixth, and Greg Pursley of Newhall was 10th.

M.K. Kanke of Frazier Park, sixth in the standings, finished 25th after dropping out with engine trouble on lap 140.

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