He sold it more than 40 years ago, but was reunited with it at Saturday's Crookston Classic Cruisers Run to the Park.
Those who know him say he’s a man of few words, but looking at the wide grin on Dave Benson’s face and his need to employ his red handkerchief to dry his eyes Saturday in Crookston’s Central Park was all anyone needed to see to realize it was a big moment for him.
For the first time in around 40 years, a surprised Benson, told he needed to come to the Crookston Classic Cruisers Run to the Park to see something special, laid eyes on the 1972 Chevrolet Vega that he used to own and race in Manitoba and Minnesota back in the 1970s. In 1978, he sold the Vega to Jim Grant in Thief River Falls, and for much of the time since it had sat in a big shed, with no engine.
Until a few weeks ago.
“I had this idea…after a couple of beers,” Chuck Hoard of Thief River Falls said Saturday while waiting for Benson’s arrival in Central Park. “That’s the way it is, you know; we don’t think about things, we drink about things. But we said, ‘Let’s drag that thing out and do this.’”
Hoard’s idea, with Grant fully supportive, was to get the Vega out of the shed, give it a nice spruce-up and, of course, install an engine. It also needed a new transmission, some brake work and other repairs. After a few weeks, there it was, in Central Park, waiting for Benson to arrive and take a stroll down memory lane. Hanging on the driver’s side door handle was the same helmet Benson wore in his racing days, and in the trunk was half of a snapped-in-two yard stick, with the words “Official Vega Gas Gauge” written in marker on it.
“You can still see the gas stain in the wood,” Brian Anderson said. “That’s how they checked the fuel level; they dipped this stick into the tank.”
Hoard, assisted by his son, Andy Hoard, coordinated the Vega’s restoration. Although the Vega’s racing days are long over, the elder Hoard said that the Vega and its story will be shown off and displayed at car shows now and then.
Along with several framed pictures placed in Central Park showing the Vega from back in its heyday were two official time-trial sheets from Gimli Dragways in Winnipeg, one of which indicating that the Vega reached 112.3 miles per hour in a quarter-mile, or in 11.45 seconds.
Benson was a pipe insulator in his working days and today he’s battling mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos.
“He’s a great guy and everyone wanted to do something special for him,” Anderson said.
The Vega isn’t exactly a roomy vehicle, so it took some work for Benson to shoehorn his way into the driver’s seat Saturday, and even more effort to squeeze his old racing helmet onto his head. But once he was properly situated and equipped, Benson turned the key and the Vega roared to life. He pumped the accelerator enthusiastically and the engine appropriately revved in response, and the exhaust crackled and popped.
After a few moments, Benson exited the Vega, where he was greeted by applause from the gathered audience, and several hugs.
Asked if the moment was pretty special to him, Benson nodded.