Bennett family continues to have racing roots firmly planted
By Joe Verdegan
Full Throttle Magazine Contributing Writer
Despite the fact that he doesn’t look a day over 40, 56-year-old “Lightning Lowell” Bennett continues to push on in his 38th season of racing asphalt Super Late Models in Wisconsin.
And in 2014 the second generation driver from Neenah will have his 18-year-old son Braison Bennett to spar with more frequently on Sunday nights at Slinger Super Speedway and possibly on occasion Thursday nights at Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna.
When it comes to racing, Lowell has pretty much “been there” and “done that” on a local and regional level. He’s got an estimated 200 career Late Model feature wins. He’s captured seven track titles at Slinger, and won track titles at WIR (both Fox River Racing Club and the Red, White and Blue state championship series), the MARS Late Model Series, the World Series of Asphalt in New Symrna, Florida and even the 1981 track championship at Shawano Speedway on the dirt.
For Lowell it all began in 1976. His Dad, “Mr. B” Bobby Bennett was a frontrunner on the local scene.
“I bought that 1972 Chevelle from my Dad,” said Lowell. “It was Jerry Smith’s car before Dad bought it from him. I won the first race ever at Shawano Speedway, a heat race and won $80.”
The car was truly “stock” back then, as were most of them.
“It had a full stock frame and was plated underneath,” explained Lowell. “It had some racing spindles. It had Bobby Allison upper control arms. And it had a quick change rear end, which was a big deal back then. In fact we still run the same bolt pattern and the valves of the rear end they used in the late 1930s. It was so new back then – I remember going to a special at Luxemburg Speedway in 1977 and the locals were like ‘Wow, that’s a quick change. I’ve only seen those in magazines.’”
For the next several years Lowell, sporting the No. 2, raced often at dirt tracks at De Pere, Shawano and Seymour, and even on the asphalt at WIR.
“Quite a few guys would run both surfaces with the same car in the late 1970s yet – it was still pretty common,” Lowell pointed out.
One of Lowell’s most famous accomplishments was in the summer of 1981. This scribe remembers full well the Midwest Racing News headline “BENNETT’S DOUBLE TROUBLE – WINS ON DIRT, ASPHALT.” He won the feature at Shawano Saturday night, switched the car over to a pavement setup on Sunday night and won on Slinger’s high-banked, soup bowl asphalt oval.
“Cliff Ebben and I were the last two guys to run the same car every week on dirt and asphalt,” said Lowell. “That was in 1981. I won the title at Shawano that year.”
Lowell pushed it one more year in 1982 and ran both surfaces, but that was the last year.
“It just got to be way too much work for the crew and myself,” said Lowell. “Different tires, shocks, springs and the windshield, spoiler. The cars were two completely different animals. And we decided to switch over to asphalt and never looked back.”
Bennett’s been a regular fixture at both Slinger and WIR, but he’s still not the oldest “veteran” on Sundays at Slinger.
“Heck, I’m young yet at Slinger,” joked Lowell. “I mean Jerry Eckhardt is 71. Al Schill is 68. Conrad (Morgan) is 65.”
At WIR it’s a different story, because Terry (Baldry) is out, I’m the old guy on Thursday nights now.”
Schill and Morgan are still chasing Bennett in the title department as Morgan has six Slinger titles while Schill has five.
Lowell’s 18 year old son Braison Bennett already has quite a bit of seat time under his belt. The senior at Hortonville High School has Limited Late Model feature wins under his belt at Slinger, and has won in the 4-cylinder ranks as well.
“I just grew up around it and knew I’d get into [racing] someday,” said Braison. “I started when I was 10 in a Junior Dragster. Dad took me to the funny cars one night at the dragstrip at WIR. I went there with him – I thought man that would be cool. Dad and Mom said if I had good grades, they’d let me run. I had A’s on my report card, I ran the Junior Dragster. Both of my sisters did it, too.”
Into his teen years, Braison began helping out with Dads’s oval track program.
“I was ripping motors apart when I was 12, so that kind of helped me learn some mechanical skills,” said Braison.
He launched a 4-cylinder career and expanded to the full sized racers a couple of years ago.
“The biggest deal with Braison racing is for him to have fun,” Lowell pointed out. “If a Dad pushes a kid too hard, and think they’re going to be in NASCAR, that’s wrong. Braison went to Oshkosh the other night to run his 4-cylinder on dirt. I’ve got no problem with that. We don’t push the kids one way or another when it comes to that.”
One of Lowell’s biggest priorities over the years has been the safety of the cars he and his son compete in.
“Safety of these cars has come a long, long way and is so important nowadays,” said Lowell. “We’ve really evolved a lot during the last 10 or 12 years. Containment seats have come so far. The HANS device, reducing neck injuries. We’ve got the high density rollbar padding.”
Bennett also has an additional Halon Fire system in his car, to complement the required one already in place. “I’m more concerned about safety of mine and Braison’s cars than I am about going faster.”
While racing is not getting any cheaper, Bennett says there is still plenty of used equipment for someone to get a start in racing.
“The cars have evolved into full blown, tubular chassis’ now,” said Lowell. “What you pay for the racing chassis itself actually isn’t that expensive. What gets expensive are the “ornaments” you put on the tree so to speak. The fancier and more lightweight stuff you go with, the more you pay, as simple as that.”
Braison is a third-generation driver. Lowell was the second of the Bennett family to race, and thus took the No. 2.
Brady was No. 3, Tim was 4, Dave was 5, Aaron was 6 and the baby brother Joel was number 7. “Mr. B” is now 82 years old and still follows his sons’ and grandkids’ racing careers.
“He was just at Shawano the other night,” said Lowell. “He just had a pacemaker put in but he’s getting around well.”
Bobby Bennett raced for 50 years, so rest assured you can plan on another 10 years at least out of Lowell.
Members of Lowell’s pit crew for 2014 include Dave Leung, Keith Kuchenbecker, former Rod Wheeler crew chief Geno Weber, Kevin Schroeder, Greg Evers and Randy Roen.
The team’s sponsors include Stockbridge Engineering, PMS Landscaping and Supply, Frederickson Masonry, Elshaddai Church, Turbo Blue by Dale Gas and Oil, Monday and Associates, Lees Fox Cities Machine, Franks Pizza, Right Foot chassis, Theimers Auto, Visionary Metals, Wegner Automotive Research, No Limit Signs and Graphics, and John J. Mayer Insurance, which has been with Lowell since 1978.
(This article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)