he has in his professional career where he's become one of the
top bridge building and rehabilitation contractors in the United
States, Bob Benza begins an assault on the NHRA's
ultra-competitive Pro Stock class with a firm foundation of hard
work and discipline derived from first-hand knowledge of what it
takes to get the job done right.
From his sleek 2009 Pontiac GXP with its
heart-pounding, 1,375-horsepower, 500 cubic inch power plant, to
his brand-new, state-of-the-art transporter and mobile race
shop, Benza is already making a statement at every national
event he attends before ever making a pass down the
"We're serious about what we do"
Benza said. "From top to bottom, I've done
everything I can to make this a top-shelf race team. There are
plenty of variables in professional drag racing so it's
imperative to take care of all the things you do have control
over. I think we've done that. I feel like we're ready to race
for the title every time we roll into a track.
"At the same time, using this racecar and
program to have fun with my family and friends on the circuit is
always the top priority. We want to win as much as the next team
but we want to make sure we enjoy the journey as well."
It seems that Benza, a native New Yorker
who was born Nov. 5, 1959, in Pelham Manor, N.Y., has always had
his priorities in place, both professionally and personally.
After losing his father at age 5, Benza grew up knowing he
needed to accept the responsibilities of the family as soon as
possible. By the time he was a young man, Benza had learned
numerous mechanical skills, which eventually led to his
formation of the Arben Group, LLC – recognized as one of the top
20 bridge building and rehabilitation firms in the country.
Tenacity, it appears, has served Benza well.
"When Bob was just getting started in his
career I remember him reading in the newspaper that the City of
New York was taking bids on repairing the George Washington
Bridge," wife Nancy Benza said. "He looked at me and said, 'I'm
going to bid this job.' He knew the basics of getting the job
done but he was just a small independent contractor. I never
thought anything would come of it. But he got the contract and
he's just gone straight up the charts since then."
Taking It To The Track
Benza is now hoping to realize the same
success on the racetrack that he's enjoyed in the professional
world. By all indications, the pieces are in place for him to do
It was in the early 1970s when Benza first
dreamed of drag racing glory. As it's been in all facets of his
life, his journey to Pro Stock title contender started at ground
zero. "My brother Raymond started the Saw Mill Speed Shop and
built a Modified Production car," Benza said. "That's where it
all started for me. Raymond was 12 years older and a real father
figure to me. Most guys wouldn't want their kid brother around,
but he let me polish the car and sweep up the shop. I was so
happy to be a part of the team."
Spending virtually every free moment at the
local tracks around New York City and upstate New Jersey, Benza
quickly learned his way around a racecar. As soon as he turned
16 his brother let him drive and a lifelong passion was
"It's all I wanted to do," Benza said. "My
friends and I never missed a meet, racing at West Hampton
Dragway, Island Dragway in Jersey, Old Bridge Township Raceway
Park, ATCO Raceway, and Dover Dragstrip in Dover Plains, N.Y. We
had a blast."
By 1984, with high school sweetheart Nancy
by his side, Benza got serious, built a Monza C-Gas car, and
began competing in the NHRA's Competition Elimination class.
Before long he was tearing up the local circuit, setting
numerous records and picking up trophies across the Northeast,
including two for best-engineered car.
"It's important to note how vital Nancy's
help and support have been throughout my racing career," Benza
said. "There's nothing she can't do on the car, from taking out
the clutch to replacing the valve springs, I'd match her up with
anyone. You have to remember in the early days it was just her
and I at most of the races. I couldn't have done it then without
her and I wouldn't want to do it now without her. It's her
undying support that allows me to continue. She lives the dream
Within a couple of years Benza upgraded to
a Smith Brothers Firebird complete with some stout horsepower
from David Nickens famed engine shop in Houston. "We were pretty
awesome for a few years," said Benza, who won the '86
Summernationals and took runner-up honors at the prestigious
U.S. Nationals in '87 in the car. "We set a lot of records and
always qualified in the top five at every national event. We
were the first to 8.5 seconds, the first to 8.4, 8.3, and 8.29
as well. It was a fast machine."
The Pro Stock Dream
Buoyed by his success in the Comp class,
Benza began taking steps towards his ultimate goal of turning
pro and racing against the best in the world in Pro Stock. He
even entered, and won, the IHRA Summernationals in the Factory
Modified class, the minor league equivalent of a Pro Stock car.
Racing part-time in Comp for the next few
years as he built his business, Benza's next move in racing
involved buying a series of Jerry Haas-built Pro Stock-style
cars. Eventually, with a rented motor from Tom Martino, Benza
entered the 1997 Keystone Nationals with the first Monte Carlo
Pro Stocker. Right away, he knew he had a home.
"I was totally into Pro Stock racing,"
Benza said. "I knew I had found my calling. I sold everything I
had and started building a Pro Stock team." It didn't take long
for Benza to find success. With a new Don Ness Firebird and
former crew chief Terry Adams calling the shots, he earned a
spot in just his third race as a Pro Stock driver.