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On the right track

Benda adjusts to the fast lane of dirt track racing

Benda adjusts to the fast lane of dirt track racing

October 24, 2006|by DAN KAUFFMAN

Alex Benda may come across as a laid-back 14-year-old in conversation, but when it comes to auto racing, he does not lack confidence.

"The future's right here," he states - and he means it.

Benda has reason to be confident.

Benda finished no worse than fifth in his last six national races for the Jr. Champ and Animal Jr. Champ classes in the Briggs & Stratton Speedway Dirt Series.

As a result, he vaulted into sixth place in the national points standings in each class to end his first season on the curcuit for drivers age 14 to 17, according to last Friday's posting on worldkarting.com.

"I was never expecting that," Benda said. "I was expecting to be good, maybe locally or on the East Coast, but ... I'm in the national point standings. I've done something on the national level. Don't get me wrong, winning on the local level is an accomplishment, but achieving on the national level is the ultimate goal."

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The 2005 season was difficult, marked with several wrecks and a ninth-place finish in the Sportsman Champ series for ages 13 and under. Benda still stepped up in competition - racing against drivers as much as three years older with more experienced - and stepped up his performance.

At the Shadow Racing Chassis Nationals at Amelia Raceway in Amelia, Va., on June 4, Benda finished fourth in Jr. Champ Animal and fifth in Jr. Champ.

At the Comp Cams Nationals on Aug. 20 at Beechnut Raceway in Blountville, Tenn., Benda took third in Jr. Champ Animal and fourth in Jr. Champ.

Finally, at the Bordeaux Dyno Cams Grand Nationals on Oct. 15 at Margarettsville Speedway in Margarettsville, N.C., Benda took third in Jr. Champ and fourth in Jr. Champ Animal, completing a run that has him thinking big in 2007.

"I'm ready for next year already," Benda said. "I'm expecting wins. ... I feel more confident. This year is the first year I haven't crashed all year."

Benda started racing karts at age 8 and raced in his first national competitions at 11. He's starting to show the signs of experience.

"The last two years, I haven't been patient at all and I messed up a lot," Benda said. "This year I'm more patient. ... I want to wait and follow. I want to get a guy in the turn. And I want to draft people - you never take the lead until the final two laps."

Benda's immediate racing future could follow two different paths. He could stay on the Briggs & Stratton Dirt Series, the first national race counted toward the 2007 season is in Daytona Beach, Fla., on the final week of December. Or he could jump to the Rage Kart Speedway Pavement Series, which opens in March and has seen NASCAR Nextel Cup drivers Jamie McMurray, Brian Vickers and Denny Hamlin pass through.

"We're thinking about switching to asphalt," Benda said. "The first race is in March. Drivers get more recognition on asphalt."

Benda, who also plays ice hockey and is a member of Williamsport High School's freshman football team, said he would like to race in the Craftsman Truck Series or Busch Series someday.

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