This story originally appeared in the April 2010 edition of Sprint Car & Midget Magazine.
His grandfather was an attorney, his father a stockbroker, and with a name like Bentley Warren III, he seemed destined to spend the bulk of his waking hours in a tie.
Luckily for race fans everywhere, Warren apparently took a wrong turn at Kennebunkport.
Trading the boardroom for the race track, Warren blazed a different, but equally successful trail and against all logic – he is still forging ahead.
Like the rugged individualists who first settled his native state of Maine, Warren is deeply American in attitude and deed. Let’s face it, deep down many of us aspire to be Bentley Warren.
In spite of closing in on his 69th birthday, he still enjoys feeling the wind rush by as he straddles his motorcycle, he finds time to lift a few cold ones at his lively saloon nestled near the ocean in the Pine Tree State, and he still climbs into race cars and drives blindingly fast.
To say it has been a remarkable career hardly covers it, for when he competes for the first time in 2010 he will have participated in the sport in seven different decades.
Along the way, and with a limited amount of fanfare, he has compiled one of the most diverse and successful resumes the sport has ever seen.
While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact date, at some point during the 1954 or 1955 season, Bentley headed to the racetrack with his pieced together race car. His haunts included The Pines Speedway in Groveland, Mass., and at Hudson Speedway in nearby New Hampshire.
However, before Warren’s racing career could really pick up steam, he was offered an all expenses paid trip to Korea.
Like many who have devoted a piece of their life to military service, Warren views these years as critical to his development as a man.
“When you were in there you were counting days,” he said, “but, in retrospect, I look back and it was probably one of the best things I ever did. I wish more kids would realize how good it is for them, and how good it is for the country. It just makes you a better person.”
It wasn’t all work and no play for the budding speedster, because while stationed near Hampton, Va., he got a chance to stretch his legs at, believe it or not, Dude Ranch Speedway.
After completing his stint in the service, like so many who have been forced to put their career on hold, Warren came back loaded for bear.
By 1957, he scored a victory at West Peabody (Mass.) Speedway, and five years later he claimed championships at The Pines and Hudson.
Good parents understand that children must make their own choices and pursue endeavors that they feel passionate about. In Bentley’s case, his father could not have been more supportive.
“My father loved cars,” he noted. “Dad had antique cars, and he followed my racing and really enjoyed it. Basically, he liked what I did. My mom did enjoy it later.”
Now a consistent winner, Warren’s career was at the crossroads. Sure he could continue to dominate in the lower classes, but in his neck of the woods there was one way to truly separate the men from the boys: that was to try your hand with the sleek and ultra-fast supermodifieds.
As he related to veteran television personality and racing writer Dick Berggren in a 1985 interview, he really wasn’t sure he could handle it, and even admitted that he thought he might be scared to try.
But like all things in life, one has to crawl before they walk, and by testing himself at familiar tracks throughout New England, it was clear that Warren had the moxie to succeed at the next level.
An early trial by fire produced a memory that will last a lifetime. Bentley picks up the tale.
“It was one of my first supermodified races at The Pines, and I was running behind Ollie Silva. We had a restart, and in those days we had a clutch and a transmission in the supermodifieds, and my foot was shaking so hard on the clutch I thought I was going to break the pedal,” Warren recalled. “I was so nervous because Ollie was a very intimidating driver. He was also one of the best traffic drivers I ever saw, but I’m pretty sure I won that night.”
Like everything else in life, when one obstacle is surmounted there is always another lurking right around the bend.
This time, the obstacle was a monstrous steel jewel, a place where you earned your badass card the very first time you clinched your jaw and unhooked your brain from your foot long enough to cut a fast lap: Oswego Speedway.
To this day, Warren has little difficulty remembering his first trip to the famed New York oval.
“The first time I went to Oswego I was in awe,” he said. “I remember the first time I looked down the straightaways, and in comparison to where I had been they looked like Indianapolis. They looked so long and big. It was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s huge. It is going to be fast.’ You always heard about how fast the cars were, and they were, and they still are.”
In 1965 Ron Lux, who occasionally raced under the names Bucky Buckholtz and Bob Hodgson, had dominated the action at Oswego, winning 12 times on his way to the season title.
When Lux decided to try his luck with USAC – and unfortunately ultimately perished on July 16, 1966, in Tulsa, Okla., during a USAC sprint car date – Hamburg, N.Y., owner Howard Purdy was in search of a new shoe.
And such, 1966 proved to be a breakout year for Bentley Warren. Armed with Dave Kane’s Speedkat No. 01, Bentley started to race up front consistently and build his own legion of fans. Purdy was well aware of what the young driver was doing, and late in the year offered him a chance in his potent machine.
Warren had a strong outing in the Purdy Deuce his first time out, and on July 17, 1966 he snared his first feature win at Oswego. Later that same year, he was voted the track’s Most Improved Driver.
With his reputation soaring, other opportunities were forthcoming. Perhaps as important as anything that happened in his career was a chance to drive a sprint car for owner Stanley “Skip” Matczak.
While at the controls of Skip’s car, Warren claimed two wins during the 1969 season at the paved Pocono Speedway, and that same year he won the prestigious International Classic at Oswego for the first time in Purdy’s super. Big things were just around the corner.
Matczak quickly recognized that Warren had the talent to go places and, as luck would have it, he and midget owner Paul Young knew Indianapolis entrant Tassi Vatis. A word or two was all it took, and suddenly a world of opportunity was sitting right there.
“This first amazing thing that happened to me was winning the Classic,” Warren said, “and then I got the invitation to go to Indianapolis. I needed to get fitted for the seat and when I was walking through Gasoline Alley in the winter … I mean, just walking under that arch, it was like ‘Wow, are we really here?’ Then I got to sit in the race car.”
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