Howie Benns Question

By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian

QUESTION

I would like to know how many Unlimited races Howie Benns won during his career. He was a very popular Grand Prix driver in Quebec and won the Valleyfield race three times (in 1973, 1988, and 1991). - Pierre Vezina

ANSWER

Howie Benns drove Unlimited hydroplanes between 1974 and 1977. In most of his races, he drove for Bernie Little's MISS BUDWEISER team.

When Dean Chenoweth temporarily retired from the MISS BUD after 1973, Little asked APBA Inboard Commissioner Bob Wanamaker who was the best Limited driver in the country. Wanamaker assured Little that person was Benns.

Howie won his very first Unlimited race--the 1974 Champion Spark Plug Regatta at Miami Marine Stadium. That doesn't happen very often. In fact, it's only happened four times in the last fifty years. (The others were Jack Regas in 1954, Gene Whipp in 1973, and Dave Villwock in 1992.) Benns drove MISS BUDWEISER to two more victories in 1974: the Gar Wood Trophy at Detroit and the Desert Thunderboat Regatta at Phoenix. Howie's chief competition in 1974 was George Henley in the PAY 'n PAK, owned by Dave Heerensperger. Benns and Henley staged some truly sensational side-by-side duels during that memorable campaign.

On the day after the Phoenix win, Howie embarked on some desert motorbike riding. This proved to be his temporary undoing when he crashed and fractured a leg. Benns recovered to briefly pilot OWENSBORO'S OWN and LAUTERBACH SPECIAL in 1975.

For 1976, he was back in the MISS BUDWEISER cockpit but had his "comeback" season cut short by an injury accident at Detroit. (Howie won the first three heats of the APBA Gold Cup but was pitched out of the boat in the first turn of the Final Heat.) The 1976 Gold Cup was his last major appearance with the Unlimiteds, aside from one relief driving assignment with ANHEUSER-BUSCH NATURAL LIGHT at San Diego in 1977. He went back to the Limiteds and spent the rest of his distinguished career there.

To this day, Howie Benns remains the only driver to win three Unlimited races during his rookie season.


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