Bennett, Prietzel reflect on HOF honor
By Nicholas Dettmann
Lowell Bennett’s 40th season in auto racing got off to a good start with a simple phone call.
The phone call told the 56-year-old driver from Neenah he was voted into the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Nov. 7 at the Wisconsin Automotive Museum in Hartford.
“It’s totally awesome,” Bennett said.
Joining Bennett in the Hall of Fame’s ninth induction class are Rich Bickle Jr., Jim Blazek, Donny Goeden, Dave Moulis, Pete Ostrowski, Bill Prietzel, John Quinn, Ray Toft, Dave Watson and John Ziegler.
Since 2009, the Hall of Fame has inducted 10 members each year. This year it is an 11-member class because there was a tie for the 10th spot.
Last year, Bill Bohn, Bay Darnell, Gary Dye, Glenn Haddy, Woddy Klug, Randy Markwardt, Robbie Reiser, Joe Roe, Russ Scheffler and Al Tietyen were inducted.
“I’m still trying to grasp it,” Prietzel said. “It’s a neat thing. I don’t think I have words for it.”
For those who know Prietzel, to make him speechless is hard to do.
It’s also not hard to find him with a big smile on his face. It’s been that way since he was told of the honor. In a way, it didn’t make sense to him.
“They’re all very deserving,” Prietzel said. “To be included in that group is mind boggling.”
The Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame began honoring the state’s past in 2007 with a 20-member induction class. That inaugural class included Etchie Biertzer, Dick Binner (the founder of MRN), Fuzzy Fassbender, Bill Johnson Sr., Bill Johnson Jr., Willie Goeden, Rollie Heder and Miles “The Mouse” Melius.
With each year, the list of names gets longer and more impressive, and that is certainly the case with this year’s class.
“They’re all names that you’ve heard for years and years,” Prietzel said. “When you read the paper, they were always winning.”
Bennett is a seven-time super late model track champion at Slinger Superspeedway. Last season, he won the late model track championship at Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna. It was his 25th career track championship.
“Since I was a kid, I always knew I was going to race,” Bennett said. “There’s pictures of me in front of my dad’s car – a 1934 Plymouth.
“It was only a matter of time until I raced.”
That day came in 1976.
“When I was 17, I bought my dad’s car,” Bennett recalled. That car had its share of success for Bennett’s father, Bob Bennett. The elder Bennett raced his way to a Hall of Fame career as well as he is in the halls of fame at Shawano and Oshkosh.
Lowell Bennett’s Hall of Fame career began with a bang. In his first race with a 1972 Chevelle – a late model – at Shawano, Bennett won the heat race.
That was the first of hundreds of checkered flags, maybe even more than a thousand checkered flags, making him one of the most decorated short-track racers in Wisconsin history.
“I’ve had a phenomenal career,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of neat experiences.”
One of those was June 30, 2002, when he made his NASCAR debut with the then Busch Series at The Milwaukee Mile. An engine problem sidelined him after 34 laps of the 250-lap event and finished 41st. He went on to make six more starts in the series and had a career-best finish of 21st at Indianapolis Raceway Park on Aug. 3, 2002.
But in that race at the Mile, it’ll forever stand out in Wisconsin and NASCAR lore.
For only the second time in NASCAR history, four members from the same family started in the same race when Jim Sauter Sr. and his sons, Johnny, Jay and Tim, competed in the GNC Live Well 250. The race was won by Greg Biffle. Jason Keller was second.
In addition to the Sauter contingent and Bennett, Wausau’s Scott Wimmer finished third and Random Lake’s Brad “JJ” Mueller finished 43rd, retiring after nine laps because of an electrical problem.
Bickle and Prietzel also boast a resume with NASCAR ties.
Bickle made 218 career starts among NASCAR’s top-three series, including three times with the truck series.
Prietzel made his lone NASCAR start in 2012 with the NASCAR Nationwide, now Xfinity, Series at Road America in Elkhart Lake. He finished 27th and completed the race.
“Without a doubt the neatest thing I ever did in racing,” Prietzel said. “We wanted to qualify on time, race all day and finish and we did all that.”
Prietzel drove the No. 23 entry for Robert Richardson Sr.
For Prietzel, it was harder to say if it was more exciting to make a start in NASCAR or to do so less than five miles from his hometown of Plymouth.
“I used to go to the Sheboygan County Fairgrounds and watch the races,” Prietzel said. “It was something I always wanted to do.”
It started for Prietzel in 1973.
“We didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” he said with his infectious smile. “The more you raced, the more you learned. We just did it for fun.”
Prietzel went on to achieve quite a bit in his career, which included winning races at the some of the world’s most prestigious facilities, including The Milwaukee Mile and Daytona International Speedway.
Last season, he accomplish something at Slinger that hadn’t been done since soon-to-be fellow Hall of Famer Al Schill Sr. did it in 1993: win two features on the same night. Prietzel won the area Sportsman and the Midwest Sportsman feature events that night.
“When we started racing, it was just for fun and to see if we could do anything good,” Prietzel said.
Event ticket information will be available this summer.
Follow Nicholas on Twitter: @dettmann_wbdn
(This article appeared in the May 2015 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)