JJust as 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 quarter-mile.

"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 just that.

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 ingrained forever.

"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 with me."

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.