Norm Benning contemplates...
Norm Benning contemplates his car at the May 2005 Toledo (Ohio) Speedwayevent. When you're a one-car unsponsored race team, you're alwaysthinking of ways to get better. Photo by Larry Jewett
You can read stories about many things that encompass a complicatedracing world. This story is not a feel-sorry story. It's not a put-downstory. It's definitely not anything of a negative vein. Actually, it istwo stories in one: the story of Norm Benning and how he has gotten themost out of his racing dollars.
Benning is more than qualified to speak on the subject of squeezingracing dollars. It hasn't always been that way for him. As Norm likes tosay, "I've been to the mountain." Quite obviously, he'd like to go backthere. In the meantime, he's in the savings mode that got him the shotat that mountain--and that keeps him racing.
Norm does his racing in the ARCA RE/MAX Series, arguably the mostversatile oval track series in the world. They race big tracks such asDaytona and Talladega, intermediates such as Michigan, Chicago, KansasCity, and short tracks. They also race their NASCAR-clone, 3,400-poundcars on dirt. The biggest difference between NASCAR and ARCA is that theteams that run ARCA on a regular basis are, for the most part, muchsmaller operations.
Norm climbs into his car before...
Norm climbs into his car before a practice session. The track time onrace day becomes vitally important to a team that doesn't have a testingbudget. Photo by John Carollo
It's always been tough in ARCA, with one of the most grueling weekendshappening a number of years ago. Picture this scenario: Teams would raceat Michigan International's 2-mile superspeedway on a Saturday and racethe next day in Illinois on a 1-mile dirt track. That meant teams likeNorm's (that had only one race car) had to turn a superspeedway car intoa dirt car while inside the transporters on the road from Michigan toIllinois. The dirt events that ARCA runs are not your average dirtraces, either. They race at what former ARCA champ Bob Keselowski called"The Superspeedways of Dirt." They are 1-mile flat dirt horse tracksthat are in Springfield and DuQuoin, both in Illinois. How's that forversatility?
That brings us to Norm. Essentially, he and his crewchief Linda Nicholasare the team. Linda does the organizational stuff such as gatheringparts or administrative duties. As she says, "I do whatever it takes atthe time, what we need. I spot, I run the pit, I work on a car if I haveto. I go over the wall if I have to--whatever it takes. I do it all."
With that small number of full-time team members comes a car inventorythat is just as small. Unlike the upper end teams in ARCA, Norm doesn'thave the $500,000 to $1 million-plus sponsorship pool of funds to workwith. His sponsorship money works more on a race-to-race basis, pickingup local and regional corporate partners. Again, there's no pity partygoing on here. Norm wouldn't allow that. It's the story of Norm andLinda, running essentially two cars where other teams have four, six, ormore. Two cars may not sound too awfully bad to a Saturday night racerwho only has one. Keep in mind that in any given ARCA race, there are anumber of specialists with purpose-built cars just for that track.
Benning stands at the front...
Benning stands at the front of the car, wrench in hand. He's fine-tuningthe chassis adjustments. Just days ago, this car, about to take on a1/2-mile track, was used on a 1 1/2-mile superspeedway. Yep, same car. Photo by Charlie Orns
Running a national series--even if it's only working on as little as twocars--has to require some help, and Norm has got that covered. Ask Normabout keeping a crew on the road and he laughs, "I know people all overthe country. We have four or five people that are pretty much at everyrace. The rest of them we pick up. Out at DuQuoin, I have Jack Greenwoodand family and friends that just can't wait for me to get there. Theyknow how to work on the race car, and they're there. When we go toDaytona, we have people who work for Caterpillar down there that can'twait for us to get there and race. I have people all over the country,and they just call me and make sure I'm coming because they're going tobe there. When I had SoBe, which was a major sponsorship, we had half adozen full-time people. Now we have full-time people, but they'revolunteers."