Young racer screams around track in honor of 101st
January 16, 2009
A little camouflage car with the 101st Airborne Division patch screams around the track, leaving competitors fighting to keep up. Behind the wheel of this Bandolero car is 12-year-old Travis Benson.
Travis and his father Dale Benson decided to adorn his car in camouflage and with the Screaming Eagle to honor Ronald Benson, Travis' grandfather and Dale's dad, for his service. Ronald served as an infantry Soldier with the 101st from 1958 to 1959. He was drafted in 1957.
"I was a machine gunner with Company C 506 Battle Group," said Ronald. "I thought it was great."
Dale grew up listening to stories of his father's time with the 101st and watching John Wayne Army movies. He wanted to do something while his father is still alive to pay tribute and to thank someone he feels is a great man.
"As much as I would like to think otherwise, Dad won't live forever," said Dale. "I wanted to do something he could see to pay tribute to him, to thank him for his service and to thank him for giving me life."
Ronald was a private first class when he left the Army. He volunteered to go airborne after basic training and completed 17 jumps.
In May 1958 he was a part of what was the longest flight on record at the time before a jump. The flight was from Fort Campbell to Puerto Rico and back. He was with those sent to aid then Vice President Richard Nixon when he came into trouble while in Venezuela.
Rioters made it impossible and dangerous for Nixon and his wife to leave the country. They ended up like prisoners in the U.S. embassy residence. Before troops could make it to Venezuela, though, the Nixons were released and safely returned to the U.S.
Ronald lived in Hopkinsville when he was with the Screaming Eagles. He wanted to stay in the area when he got out, but there was no work.
"I was in construction and iron work," said Ronald. "There was nothing for an iron worker at the time."
Ronald and his wife have traveled from their home in northern Illinois to just outside of Houston, Texas, where his son lives, to see Travis race at times.
"I thought it was great," said Ronald. "We enjoyed it immensely."
Everything about Travis' racing somehow has a military or 101st theme. His father could have named the team Dale Benson Racing, but instead went with High Caliber Racing.
"That's why he's number 50," said Ronald. "50 is a play on a .50 caliber rifle."
"We were going to use 50, 357 or 101," said Dale. "50 was our first pick and it was available. High caliber is also to show we are a notch above everybody else."
Travis raced at his car 14 times this season. He won six races, was in the top five most of the others. It was from an 11th-place finish, he acquired something else related to the 101st to put on his vehicle: a set of air assault wings.
Due to a mechanical error, Travis crashed head on into the wall at 50 miles per hour. The racers of the Bandolero cars, sometimes as young as 8-years-old, all wear and use the same safety equipment as those who race in NASCAR. He was able to walk away from the vehicle, but rules required him to stay put and be pulled out.
The emergency medical technician who pulled him out was Jeff Prescott. Prescott was wearing a 101st cap when he approached the vehicle to honor his own service with the Screaming Eagles during the Gulf War.
"We talked after the crash," said Dale. "We exchanged decals. He gave me a set of the air assault wings and I gave him an eagle that merges into a flag; it's called Wings of Freedom."
Dale was never able to serve in the military because his eyesight was poor, but there are numerous family members who have served and one of his other children plans on serving in the military.
"We love the military," said Dale. "We know where our freedoms come from."
"I understand how important the military is to our country," said Travis. "I think it's awesome and I think it's very special to honor my grandpa for being in the 101st Airborne."
The car gets all sorts of attention at races, said Dale. Many times veterans will come up and talk to the family about the car and their ties to the military. At one race, the group of Soldiers for the flag detail came to talk with Travis after they came off the track.
"They came and talked with us and took pictures," said Dale.
Travis' interest in racing started at a young age. Dale explained when Travis was 3 or 4-years-old he didn't play with his Matchbox cars quite like other children.
"He's always been more interested in racing than anything else," said Dale. "More than baseball, football, anything else."
Travis started racing with Quarter Midget cars; the same way NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon started.
"Dad is having me do it in steps," said Travis. "That way I get used to the speed, the horse power and the type of car before moving on to something bigger."
Travis' long term goal is to turn his love of driving into a career.
"In the long run I want to be in NASCAR or Indy Car," said Travis. "Anything that is fast."
Travis and Dale would eventually like to make a trip to Fort Campbell, possibly with the little 101st-themed car in tow.
"We'd love to come by in the race car, driving through," said Dale. "That'd be a hoot."