One year after winning the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North championship with veteran racer Mike Rowe behind the wheel, the Petit Motorsports No. 7 will have a new driver turning the wheel in 2016. Two-time Oxford 250 winner and 2012 PASS North champion Travis Benjamin has reached a deal to drive the 2015 championship-winning car during the upcoming Super Late Model season.
According to a post on the Petit Motorsports Facebook page on January 11, Rowe will not be returning to the car as a result of a major sponsor pulling back support at the end of the season. Benjamin said that was indeed the case and that the team approached him during the offseason to gauge his interest in driving the car.
“Mike had a sponsor that kind of backed out and didn’t want to commit at the time that I was willing to commit,” Benjamin explained. “I’ve got sponsors that will back me 100-percent and that’s pretty much how it went down. Mike didn’t have a sponsor that was willing to commit at the time the team needed them to commit. The sport is so expensive now and you need full-time people, that’s pretty much what it boiled down to. If Mike had gotten the sponsor to commit then he would have been in the car.”
When reached for comment, Rowe didn’t necessarily agree with the way things unfolded during his departure from the team.
“I kept hearing s— all the time and this and that,” Rowe told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Finally I just went down and got my s—. If I shake someone’s hand I usually mean it, but he’s just a… I’ve just got to stop talking and let it go. It’s just frustrating when someone stabs you in the back, but s— happens. I’m fine.”
Petit, who scored his first touring series championship as a car owner in 2015, offered a Bill Belichick-like response in saying that his team is “onto 2016.”
“I have the utmost respect for Mike Rowe,” he said. “Mike knows the truth and Petit Motorsports is moving onto 2016.”
Benjamin of Belfast, Maine previously piloted his family-owned No. 17 Benjamin Motorsports car in select PASS North events in New England. During the offseason he was presented with the opportunity to drive for car owner Peter Petit and he said it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“This sport, it costs so much money to run now and most people can’t do it unless you have help,” Benjamin said Tuesday while working at Belfast Variety, the convenience store that his family owns. “I was actually thinking about cutting back some this year and picking and choosing a few races, but when this opportunity was presented we couldn’t pass it up.
“I work on my race car, I drive the truck and trailer to the track and then work on the race car at the track. I would think this will make it a lot easier. I have talked to people who do just drive and they say it’s way easier.”
Up until this point of his racing career Benjamin has never had the opportunity to drive for another team other than his own. The 37-year-old racer has always managed his race team’s checkbook, worked on his own car and done everything with help from a dedicated crew of family and friends.
With this new opportunity to drive for Petit Motorsports he hopes that some of the time that used to be “race car time” will now be valuable time spent with his son Kaiden, who races go-karts and is active in youth sports.
“That was probably the biggest reason (for the change) right there,” Benjamin said. “Last year Kaiden had baseball so I would help coach as much as I could. I coached his basketball team this year, and like with baseball last year I would work all day, go work on the race car for a couple hours, drive to his baseball practice and then go back to working on the race car. Now I can go enjoy practice and help him with that. Go-karts are also becoming more and more important each year. With this opportunity there’s a couple go-kart races on Friday nights that I’ll be able to go race with him instead of having to do setup on the race car.”
Although Benjamin ultimately decided to accept the invitation to race for Petit, it wasn’t a decision that he made easily. He admitted to “having anxiety for the past two months” while debating about whether or not to accept the team’s offer given the success of his own team in recent years.
“It took me a long time to figure out what we really wanted to do,” Benjamin stated. “My team has been very, very competitive and there’s no reason for me to really jump ship. The only reason is that it just makes it a lot easier. My car last year was as good as any car, we just drew bad all year long.”
Now teamed up with the defending PASS North championship team, Benjamin knows that the expectations are high going in. He wants to win races and ultimately be in the position to once again compete for the title at the end of the year.
“The expectations are very high,” Benjamin admitted. “They’re a very good team and Peter is putting 100-percent into it. They’re building a new car and going through the car they had this year to fine tune it. They’re buying a couple new crate engines and they have two full-time people working there. We’re really excited. It should be a good year. I don’t know if I’ll win as many races as Mike did, but I know we can run for a championship.”
Before Benjamin and team embark on their journey to become the 2016 PASS North champions, there’s a possibility that the team may head south for a few races. Although he isn’t entirely sure what races may be on their schedule, Benjamin is ready to go wherever the team wants to go.
“I think they want to go down south for a race or two to see how (crew chief) Mark (Lyden) and I work together,” he said. “It’d be nice to get a race under our belt before we get the season started up here. I’ll do whatever they want to do.”
So what about that 2013 and 2014 Oxford 250 winning car? Don’t you worry, Benjamin will have “old faithful” ready to race if need be.
“I’ve got my car stripped and we’re going through it,” said Benjamin. “It will be 100-percent ready to race if I want to race it. I know that car can win the Oxford 250, so if we feel more comfortable taking that car to the Oxford 250 then I’m definitely going to talk to the guys about that being an option. I’ve also had a few people contact me about renting it for a few races and I’ve always kind of wanted to do something like that.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Benjamin Motorsports