Enthusiast Spotlight: Endurance Racer Benson Young
My favorite time behind the wheel was in 2012 when I went to the Nurburgring. It’s an absolute bucket-list place to go…
Tell Us A Little Bit About Yourself
My name is Benson Young, and I’m a die-hard car enthusiast. Auto racing is my passion, and any day wearing a helmet is a good day. I love to work on mechanical things, and I’m usually under the hood of something on any given weekend.
What was your first car?
My first car was a used 1978 Oldsmobile Starfire Firenza, a strange model of a pretty boring coupe/hatch from GM. It was fun for a malaise-era car, but I didn’t have it very long. I bought a new 1987 Honda Civic Si, and that really cemented my love of engineering and import cars.
What was your favorite car?
Hard to say, as a lifelong car enthusiast, there have been many cars that have graced my bedroom walls. Back then, I had a love of Aston Martins, particularly the V8 Vantage models from the mid-1980s. But really, the Lamborghini Countach was just the most outrageous thing you could imagine. That was just the ultimate car back then, as unrealistic and impractical as it was.
What are you driving now?
I have a few vehicles now, include a Honda Pilot as my daily. I’ve got a 1990-ish 240sx track-only enduro car, with a KA24DE awaiting a rebuild. There’s also a truck and trailer, which have turned into projects in themselves. The weekend car is a 1992 Acura NSX, Formula Red on ivory interior, 5MT. That’s been a dream car of mine since it came out, and I was fortunate enough to buy a nice example a couple years ago.
How did you get into cars originally?
I can’t even remember, I’ve loved cars for so long. Like most people, it probably started with Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. That gradually went towards building/painting plastic car models, slot cars, and eventually real automobiles. I really never stopped playing with cars
Tell Us A Little Bit About Your Experience Endurance Racing
I was getting serious about my road racing skills and wanted more competition.
My racing habit started with SCCA autocross back when I got my Civic Si. After taking various breaks for career and family, I came back to SCCA and my best friend, Keith Wicker, along some racing buddies invited me to drive with them in Lemons, which was rapidly expanding in the Gulf Coast area.
The Race Hard Race Ugly team was made up of mostly engineers and experienced racers who saw this as cheap seat time. They pretty much threw me into a prepped E30 and I was hooked. The team was pretty successful, with two cars and several wins over the years. Some of the best battles I’ve ever had on track were in Lemons races. I ran about 8-9 Lemons races before my buddy Darren Darby got bitten by the endurance bug as well. We had been running the Delta Region SCCA together for several years, so we had a good working relationship.
A Louisiana team was abandoning a S13/240sx project car that raced a single Lemons event before exploding, so Darren and I bought the car and reworked it completely with the help of Chris Carver Motorsport. It was a great car really, a solid enthusiast platform. Not many people were using it for endurance racing yet, but it was already gaining a strong following in the emerging drift community. We revised it on a pretty tight schedule and promptly blew up two engines at our first 24 Hours Of Lemons race as our own team.
By that time, Chumpcar (now Champcar) had been gaining popularity and we started racing with them and had a great time. After 5 or 6 races, I sold my part of the car and started freelancing with other teams that were going to the tracks I wanted to drive. Eventually, I wound up buying my current 240 from some friends who were all starting families. I was living in Mobile, Alabama at the time and put together a small team. The car was an endurance veteran, one I had competed against many times. It wasn’t very powerful but in the corners, it was as good as anything out there. Our little team went to Road Atlanta with minimal spares but finished the race mid pack in our class, a solid result. I took a job transfer to Atlanta, and tried starting up a team here a few times but never really got it off the ground. In the meantime, I’ve been freelancing seats with other teams out of Florida and Tennessee.
They think endurance racing is really expensive, and to a certain extent, it can be. But… endurance racing is the best value going.
What are the biggest differences you find between Champ Car and Lemons?
From the beginning, ChumpCar was more serious. There was less spectacle and pageantry, less silliness. Lemons was a lot of fun, but I was getting serious about my road racing skills and wanted more competition. Back in 2010, you could really have a car that could run in either series. But in ChumpCar, things escalated quickly, and every year lap times kept dropping. By 2015, you really needed a well sorted car, team, and aero to get on the podium. The series was renamed ChampCar, and has turned into a pretty competitive series. It’s still affordable, but there’s some big money being spent in it now, with many pro drivers spending time in the off season there. You can still have a great time there for relatively little money, but it’s definitely a lot more serious than Lemons racing.
The other major difference is the maximum driver stint. Back in Lemons, there was no maximum time a driver was allowed racing. In practical terms, the E30 was limited to about 90 minutes at a time before needing fuel. But with our first S13, we were putting in only 9 gallons after two hours. After getting tired of my drivers coming in too early, I decided to see how far I could really go before sputtering. During a sleepless race, I got in the car at 4am and drove 3 hours and 15 minutes before the team insisted I come in for fuel because we had a full course yellow and the timing was right. We moved up several places, but it was truly exhausting. I don’t remember a lot of it, but I recall my team fell asleep because I couldn’t raise anyone on the radio around 6am.
In ChampCar, we are limited to 2 hours per stint, so our race strategy is a lot different. Everyone has to pit after 2 hours max, so it’s all about executing the pit stop perfectly. They also have a 5-minute minimum on the fuel stop, which helps maintain safe pit stops. That also puts emphasis on fast lap times as a strategy, hence the competitive driving on track.
Reving an engine to 9000rpm is just amazing.
What is something car people assume wrong about endurance racing?
Three things come to mind.
It’s an entirely different mentality than other kinds of racing. In drag racing, you race last just a few seconds, maybe 13-14 on the upper end. Autocross puts in the turning aspect, and you’re insanely busy for 30-60 seconds. That’s an eternity by drag racing standards. Club racing really opens up the speeds on full size tracks, but races are often 15-20 minutes and they are done. You don’t have enough time to ignore a gap or wait for a move; you go for everything every moment, because the race is over in 10-12 laps. Endurance racing isn’t like that. You’re in the car for hours at a time, 60-70 laps. That gives me a lot more time to get the most out the car, to really connect with it and understand what it needs to go fast. Your tactics are also very different. You have to share the car with others, so you can’t be a hero and set a fast lap. It’s more important to have a strong pace than a peak lap, and bring the car back for the next guy. There’s an old saying in racing: In order to finish first, first you must finish. You have to constantly adapt to the conditions. Night, rain, or both. Even the other cars become variables, as drivers are constantly being swapped, with widely varying skill levels.
Another thing people don’t understand is the cost factor. They think endurance racing is really expensive, and to a certain extent, it can be. But if you look at the costs for any form of racing and divide it up by your seat time, enduros are really not bad. In fact, endurance racing is the best value going. Take drag racing: the entry fee is very low, but the wear and tear is very high. Divide that into very short races, and you’re at a high cost per minute, easily hitting hundreds of dollars per minute of seat time ($500/15 seconds x 4 runs). Autocross tends to be better, but with a competitive setup, you’re still talking about $50-$70/minute ($200/3-4 minutes). That’s a much better value, but you still don’t spend that much time in the car. Club Racing is a lot more expensive, at $800-1000/event, but you get 60-90 minutes of seat time ($10-$20/min). Endurance racing is like buying seat time in bulk at Costco. Rent a seat for $1400 plus expenses, and get 4-6 hours of seat time. You’re down in the $5-$7/min for seat time, but you have to buy in volume to get that price.
Lastly, it requires intense preparation and logistics. This isn’t a simple sprint race: you’re talking about running a car for 14-24 hours straight. I’ve seen so many efforts derailed by the most minor details you can imagine. I look a car prep as failure analysis, looking for the weakest link (besides the driver of course: that’s the most obvious failure point). It’s an exercise in thermodynamics. Going fast and lasting the race is all about heat management. But outside of that, I love the challenge of planning and executing an endurance race. It has to be very detailed, meticulous in order to do well.
What is your current endurance racing team status and project car?
Stalled. I really haven’t been able to get the right team together to get it going again. I’ve been working on the car solo, and taking the opportunity to learn new things, like rebuilding the engine. I’m also updating the aero of the car, as the last time we took it to Road Atlanta, it was turning lap times fast enough to rethink the vehicle aerodynamics a bit. I’d love to get a team going in Atlanta, but could really use a partner to share costs and project management.
What’s Your Favorite Competitive Racing Story?
One night during a 24 hour race, I got into the Race Hard Race Ugly E30. We were in a distant 2nd place overall at the time, but only about halfway through the race. The car was quick, turning in some of the best lap times of all the teams. I got in and started passing cars pretty regularly, maybe 2-5 cars per lap. It was at my home track, so driving it at night heavily favored me. I blew by my buddy in his S13. This car handled great but didn’t have the power so I zipped by him, with a pace of about 4 seconds a lap better. I settled into my 8/10ths rhythm but after a while, I saw a pair of lights start to come up through the field behind me. The headlight pattern looked like the S13, but I dismissed it as they could not match our pace. It must have been one of the other leaders, perhaps the E30 in P1, but the lights didn’t look right. A few laps later and this car had reeled me in, and it really looked like my buddy in his S13. At that point, I had to slow down and see, so I lifted on the front straight to get a look see. Sure enough, my buddy blew right by me in the S13, and it was ON. He had picked up his pace when I passed him, because he was bored and wanted to chase me down. I passed him back on the next lap: I could not match his corner grip, but he could not match my power advantage. We went 10/10ths for the next hour, slicing traffic, setting picks. We must have changed positions a dozen times. We fought HARD, and used traffic to gain any advantage. Everyone just got out of our way. Nobody wanted anything to do with us: night laps are often just run at 8 or 9 tenths to put in the laps and stay out of trouble. That wasn’t us: we fought an epic hour-long battle. They actually wound up moving into a distant third place and we took the overall the end. I’ll always remember that fight. I eventually bought that S13 and started the Alabama team with it.
What are your favorite car things to geek out on?
Engineering. I love engineering, and seeing how problems get solved through the design process. It’s the small details I enjoy. I studied mechanical engineering in college, and love to see how it all fits together to be more than the sum of its parts.
I find car culture to be very cliquish, and not enough respect for another person’s ride. It may not be your cup of tea, but someone else may be very proud of what they bought or built.
What is your favorite thing you’ve ever done behind the wheel?
I’ve had some fantastic drives in competition. SCCA Rallycross is hilarious fun. I’ve done over 100 autocrosses, and that can be very competitive.
Those are great times, but my favorite time behind the wheel was in 2012 when I went to the Nurburgring. It’s an absolute bucket-list place to go, and I rented a Lotus Exige 240S for a dozen laps. The track itself is insanely long and difficult. It’s narrow, and has a thousand feet of elevation change. There are three towns inside it. And on the open lap days, it’s an automotive mecca. There’s a big parking lot and Devil’s Diner café at the entrance on the Döttinger Höhe straight. Cars roll in, park, hang out like any cars & coffee, so run a few laps, come back to cool off the tires. This happens all day long and some amazing cars show up. It’s fantastic.
Total, I only did 18 laps. That may not sound like much, but at around 10 minutes a lap, that’s three hours. I saw many wrecks, and had a few pucker moments myself. I usually only need a dozen laps or so to really get the hang of a particular track in the US. But that’s a much smaller track, with 12 to 23 corners over 2 or 3 miles. At over 14 miles and 160 turns (according to the internet, most will say it’s about 70-80 distinct corners), the Nordschleife takes many, many hours to even get remotely good at. Though formal lap timing is forbidden, I brought a data acquisition GPS lap timer and Go Pro. My best lap was 8 minutes, 55 seconds from bridge to gantry (a popular timing reference point for open lap days), with plenty of driving mistakes. But I survived The Green Hell, without making it onto a YouTube highlight reel.
What’s the biggest regret you have regarding a car you’ve owned?
I really don’t have very many: I’ve been very lucky to experience the cars that I’ve had. I’d say it was leaving my 1994 Miata R behind in coastal Mississippi when we evacuated for Katrina. Our house was considered high ground, so I thought everything would be fine. This was our third evacuation that season, so we fully expected to be back in a few days. By the time we realized how bad it was going to be, there was no going back to save anything. Luckily the house didn’t get much damage but there was water up in the Miata glove box. Insurance totaled it out over the phone. I sold it to my buddy who turned it into a Spec Miata, which I think is still running today. I don’t see me doing anything different though: a Miata is a terrible car to evacuate in.
A close second might be selling my S2000. After 11 years, I felt like I owned it too long, as I just hated driving it around in Atlanta traffic. I had many years of autocross and track days on it, but it was time to move on to other cars. I sold it to a kid who never owned a stick before. Seriously, I had to drive it up onto the trailer for him. The S2000 is an amazing car, but it’s high strung and not for everyone. Even though I had tamed down the suspension for street use, it still does not suffer fools. He had it a few months then totaled it in the rain. Luckily, he was unhurt but the car was beyond saving. I tell myself I don’t have the space for another car, but that doesn’t stop me from looking at S2000s. Reving an engine to 9000rpm is just amazing.
What do you wish was different about car culture?
The gatekeeping. I understand that we are a primitive, territorial species, and it’s natural to try to exclude those who are different. But I find car culture to be very cliquish, and not enough respect for another person’s ride. It may not be your cup of tea, but someone else may be very proud of what they bought or built. It’s everywhere in car culture: rich and poor, fast and slow, old vs new, track or trail. I see a lot of bickering, despite all of us being drawn together by a love of cars.
If you had unlimited money and 5 garage bays- what would you buy to fill them up?
That’s a tough one. Some slots would be easy to fill, but just 5 is tough.
- Ferrari F40, narrowly over a 288 or 250 GTO. As a racer, I think this would a lot of fun to have on the track and street.
- Jaguar E-Type Lightweight Competition. It’s just gorgeous, one of the most beautiful cars ever made. It’s just timeless.
- Porsche 911 reimagined by Singer Design. I’m not a huge 911 fan, as I think the engine is in the wrong place. But the amount of work that goes into these is staggering. It really appeals to my sense of engineering, not to mention my OCD.
- Honda NSX-R, heavily modified. I love these cars and I want to really build something amazing from the platform.
- Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. I’d need something to daily and tow these amazing cars around with, so a comfortable SUV makes sense. The 707hp Hellcat motor doesn’t hurt either to keep things from getting boring. I’m not a fan of Jeeps in general, but this is an amazing all-around machine. Oddly, it would be the newest, cheapest, most comfortable, and fastest vehicle in the garage. If I had an unlimited budget but a one-car garage, it would be this, of course with the 1200hp upgrade from Hennessy. I’m a practical guy, so a 9-second sleeper SUV would be a great daily.