NEWTON – Rick Bennett returns to his home state for vacations, periodically.
This trip to Iowa, however, is all business.
The Cedar Rapids native was focused on work this weekend, serving as a Red Horse Racing team mechanic for the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series American Ethanol 200 Saturday night at Iowa Speedway. Bennett has worked for about 14 years in NASCAR.
He didn’t make it to Cedar Rapids, leaving Iowa Speedway on Friday after practice and adjustments about 9 p.m. and returning at 7 a.m. Saturday. Shortly after the race, his team will load up on a plane and head home, preparing for a dirt-track race at Eldora Speedway in Eldora, Ohio.
“I would love to have gone to Hawkeye Downs last night and watch the races and talk to some of the old people,” said Bennett, a former Sportsman season points champ at Hawkeye Downs. “It’s still a job that I do here. It’s hard to (get back).”
Bennett, a 1984 graduate of Cedar Rapids Kennedy, moved to North Carolina in 1999. He was determined to make it in the racing industry, but was thrown for a loop when changes forced him to have to learn new rules. Bobby Dotter put him to work and Bennett has always been grateful.
“He gave me a chance,” Bennett said. “He believed in me. He’s still my friend to this day.”
Bennett said a strong work ethic and a “never give up” attitude allowed him to make good impressions on others, leading to better jobs through the years. He has worked in NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series in addition to Trucks. He thought he was in his final job a few years ago when he worked for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
When it closed and that door slammed shut, the Red Horse door cracked open with a spot on driver German Quiroga’s and crew chief Dan Stillman’s team. Bennett meshed well with the group, owning plenty of knowledge to share with his colleagues.
“He’s been in all the series,” Stillman said. “he can come to a team like this and lead the young guys.”
Stillman and Bennett have known each other since 2008, working together previously at DEI and ThorSport Racing. They have a strong relationship, pulling pranks and jokes on each other occasionally.
“We work well together,” Stillman said. “We’ve become pretty good friends.”
Quiroga entered the race at Iowa Speedway with two straight top-10 finishes, placing third in the WinStar World Casino 400 at Texas Motor Speedway and eighth in the UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway.
Quiroga, who was 16th in points before Saturday, became the first Mexican driver to earn the pole position. He recorded a fast-lap speed of 138.620 miles per hour.
“We have an outstanding team,” Bennett said. “It’s a great place to work. I love Trucks racing.”
Bennett, cousin of Hawkeye Downs Wall of Fame driver Bill Bennett Jr., was an accomplished driver at Hawkeye Downs. At one time, he was the only driver with a win in every division at the track before left to pursue his career. The experience behind the wheel is not a factor now.
“It really doesn’t. Everything is different,” Bennett said. “What helped me was I was willing to learn and listen.”