OSWEGO, NY – As the countdown continues toward the 59th running of the Budweiser International Classic 200 at Oswego Speedway on September 6, we look back at the next historic Classic driver on our list, Michigan speed merchant – Johnny Benson Sr.
Benson was known far and wide as the fastest driver on four wheels in the Midwestern states during the mid-1960s, and in 1964 he brought that speed to Oswego’s Port City oval.
Benson started the ’64 Classic from the 5th position, but ended with a lackluster 30th place effort.
The Michigan ace would not return to Oswego until the ’66 edition of the race and he no doubt made his mark.
A record 81 entries were on hand to attempt to qualify for the International Classic 200 in 1966, only the second year in which the Classic would go 200-circuits.
Benson timed trailed fastest of the record entries in his No. 21 upright, with a lap of 19.81 seconds, some three tenths of a second faster than his next closest competitor, Bentley Warren.
Warren, a young upstart at this time – now driving the Howard Purdy Deuce, would be Benson’s closest competition for much of the weekend.
As the 200 went green, Benson edged out to the early lead before Warren would take the point on lap three, driving the machine made famous by the late Ron Lux one year prior at Oswego.
Benson eventually charged on to take the top spot back at lap 102, and not long after Warren dropped out of the event with brake issues.
With Warren out of the picture this now set up a battle between Benson and defending Classic champion, Gordon Dukes.
Dukes took the lead at lap 154 and held a slight edge until Benson came back on at lap 180 to steal the lead for good on this way to his only Classic triumph, in just his second start in the legendary Supermodified event.
“The biggest thing about the 1966 Classic was the fact that I wasn’t used to running 200 laps,” said Benson, in the 50 years of the International Classic book, published by Speedway Press. “In Michigan we ran 50 to 100, but not 200. It was a whole new experience. The hardest thing for me to do was to pace myself and not burn up the car. There was no power steering and I wasn’t ready for that race. I was fortunate to win it.”
Benson returned for the 1967 Classic, qualifying on the front row with his ’66 rival Warren.
The ’67 Classic however was a battle between Jack Lindhout and Nolan Swift, with Lindhout appearing to have the win well in hand after qualifying out of the semi-final to start 30th.
Benson led laps 1-53 and again from laps 71-81 before Lindhout stormed to the point.
The Behnke Trucking No. 60 of Lindhout looked to be well on his way to victory until being tagged while lapping slower cars and spinning out on lap 173.
That mishap handed the lead over to second running Swift, who would go on to the victory.
After starting second, Benson would go on to finish second, a full lap behind champion Swift.
Benson would run his final Classic in 1968, once again starting from the front row, unfortunately ending the night 27th.
For more information on Oswego Speedway and Budweiser International Classic Weekend visit online at www.oswegospeedway.com or call (315) 342-0646.