Travis Benjamin made a big decision during the winter months leading into the 2016 racing season. With son Kaiden getting older and Dad’s amount of time spent at the race shop decreasing, Benjamin realized that he needed a change of pace. He could no longer spend the time needed to make his family-owned Super Late Model go fast and win races.
Insert Petit Motorsports.
Fresh off a Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North championship season with the “Maine Racing Legend” Mike Rowe, the team led by owner Peter Petit was looking to go in a different direction. The opportunity to race for Petit was presented to Benjamin.
Last Sunday, after two years of ups and downs, that decision resulted in Benjamin celebrating his second career PASS North championship with his family in victory lane at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME).
When reflecting on his second championship, Benjamin recalled one moment in the Petit Motorsports race shop that he’ll never forget.
At the time, Benjamin and his new team were struggling. They both had experienced success in the past, but at the time they were struggling to find success together. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. It wasn’t for a lack of a fast race car. It was mostly because of bad luck.
A hard crash in a qualifying heat to kick off the 2016 season at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) spoiled Benjamin’s debut in the No. 7 Super Late Model. That wasn’t the end of the team’s struggles. A few other on-track incidents and a blown engine put the team out of championship contention early in the season.
“We struggled at the beginning of the year. There’s one moment I’ll never forget,” Benjamin began. “I was in the shop; Peter was in the shop. We had blown up an engine, tore up two or three race cars the first four races. Peter was like, ‘Don’t give up on me.’ At that time, I was thinking he was going to give up on me. I was thinking, ‘Don’t give up on me.’ I knew right then and there that this team was going to be special.”
Petit Motorsports crew chief Mark Lyden also remembered that moment at the shop and acknowledged that the hardships made their championship feat an even sweeter one.
“We were wrecking the hell out of stuff. I just said, ‘Don’t give up. It’s going to get better; it’s going to get better.’ About July of last year is when it really turned around,” Lyden said.
“It’s way sweeter. A lot of people thought that the person who was driving before, you don’t get rid of that guy and he’s one of the greatest but this kid right here is as good as anybody. Last year we had a rough start getting going but now this year we just clicked. We weren’t as good in the beginning but we worked on it and the last month, month and a half we were pretty good.”
Looking back on his decision, Benjamin called the opportunity to join Petit Motorsports “the opportunity of a lifetime.” That decision has allowed him to continue going to his son’s sporting events while also being able to show up to the race track with a fast race car underneath.
“I love working on race cars. There’s nothing more gratifying. We won the Oxford 250 with our own team, out of our own shop, most of us family. But my son is getting older now and I had to make some decisions as far as whether I wanted to keep racing or not,” Benjamin stated. “These guys called me and it was the opportunity of a lifetime at that time. I couldn’t work all day and then work on (race cars) all night, go to my son’s baseball games, basketball games and try to keep him racing. When I got that phone call it was unreal.”
Moving forward, there’s no questioning that driver and team want to remain together in the future. Lyden made that quite clear when asked about the team’s future plans and goals.
“I want to stay with Travis; I really do. I want to win more races,” he said. “I’d like to win… I know I could never catch Ben Rowe, he’s got like 30 wins, but I’ve got 14 with a bunch of different drivers. I’ll never catch Ben, but I’d like to at least get 20 or 25 and keep going that way.”
Benjamin capped off his championship season with a strong runner-up finish among a field of 45 Super Late Model that showed up for the finale at Oxford Plains. He entered the race with a 25-point advantage over his closest championship contender, Glen Luce, but didn’t want to back his way into a championship.
“That was the way I approached all season. I told these guys going into the race that I’m going for the win,” Benjamin claimed. “If we can win it, we’re going to win it. If something happens while fighting for the win then they knew we were here. Championship is great no question, but winning is tough. This is tough, obviously, but winning is really tough especially when there are 45 cars here. I wanted to go for the win and whatever happened happened.”
The Petit Motorsports team ended the 2017 PASS North season with two wins, 10 top-five finishes and an average finish of 6.75 en route to the team’s second championship.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Norm Marx / Pro All Stars Series