NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Presto! Conjuring up 'the Wizard'

06 Nov 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

 I wanted to share what has become a pretty typical thing with this column, and one of the things of which I am most proud. In Tuesday's Fan Fotos edition from Mark Collins, we had a shot of Bennie "the Wizard" Osborn, and Mark wondered what had become of Osborn. Naturally, the Insider Nation was all over it.

One of the first e-mails I got was from Bennie's son, Tony, who assured me that his dad was still very much around and kicking and even enclosed these photos.

"I'm very proud to inform you that my father is doing just fine," he wrote. "He still lives in Sand Springs, Okla., and continues to do mechanic work at his own pace. We have been reliving the past a lot here lately. The championship car that you mentioned for sale was purchased by a gentleman from Tulsa and had it delivered to Dad's shop for a complete AUTHENTIC restoration. Plans are to have the car ready for Bakersfield March 2010 Cacklefest. The WIZARD was at the Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield a couple of weeks ago and actually cackled Raymond Godman's Tennessee Bo-Weevil car."

The top photo shows "the Wizard," in the blue and gray striped shirt, with the championship car at a car show on Halloween put on by The Hot Rod Shop in honor of The Tulsa Timing Association. I hope to have a more in-depth look at "the Wizard's" career in a future column.

Our good friend Glenn Menard, president of Texas Motorplex who also maintains the www.division4halloffame.com Web site – Osborn, naturally, is a member of that Hall of Fame -- sent me a link to some great Osborn photos that the man himself had submitted for that site. You can find them here.

Gary Osborn (no relation to Bennie), whose dad ran blown gas dragsters in the 1960s before he partnered with the Sewells and won the 1980 Cajun Nationals with A.J. Seruntine driving, dropped me a note and this photo, which shows Osborn at the Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Ky. Gary was there with Dick Venables, whose front-engine dragster had been restored and is now owned by Rip Wiley. In the photo, from left, are Wiley, Venables, Osborn, and Dick's son, current Al-Anabi Funny Car tuner Dickie.

Tulsan Brian Vermillion, who has an interesting history with Osborn, shared his "Wizard" tale in an e-mail: "Bennie Osborn is alive and well, still living in Sand Springs, in the same house he lived in 40 years ago. He gave up racing in the mid- '70s after his second rear-engine dragster crash and opened up a successful transmission-repair business in his old dragster shop in his backyard.

"I got to interview Bennie at his house over 40 years ago for an eighth-grade speech-class project. Since he was my hero back then, I chose him. He was finishing up his brand-new car for the 1969 season -- I believe it was a Woody Gilmore car -- and I got to sit in it and check things out. For a 14-year-old kid who was ate up with drag racing, it was definitely the thrill of a lifetime. A friend of mine, who is close friends with Bennie, told him this story of me interviewing him, and he remembered me. He even autographed the PR handout that he gave me over 40 years ago, and it still thrilled me today to get it.

National DRAGSTER has a great photo file on the two-time champ, but I especially like this 1970 photo of "the Wizard" enjoying some fine reading material.

"You spoke of the 1967 World Finals. I remember being there with my dad that weekend. I had just turned 12, and the drags were my birthday present. The final AA/FD round almost didn't get run. The skies were as black as I had ever seen them, and it just started to sprinkle as they were beginning to stage. Tree goes green, Bennie gets a slight holeshot and carried it through to the lights. But what I remember was that as soon as the chutes were out (they hadn't even got to the turnoff yet), the skies opened up, and the most godforsaken downpour hit, flooding the track, parking lot (which was a dirt field before the rain), and everything else. But hell, when you are 12, who cares!"

Added Barry Lester, "I live about 20 miles away and pass there almost every weekend and always look over and think I should go see him but never have. I picked up the phone and called him and told him that people were wanting to know where he was. We had a great visit, told him in 1967 he came to Amarillo to race 'Big Daddy.' My buddy and I were staying in the Cowboy motel on Saturday night and going to the races on Sunday. When they pulled that AA/FD in the motel on a flatbed trailer, I almost died! I was over there in a second and was lucky enough to be able to help the mechanic pull the panels off and drop the pan and change oil, which was milky; bored a little to close to the jacket water, he said.
"I asked Bennie if it was OK for me to e-mail you; he said, 'Tell them not to send flowers, I am still alive and in the same place.' "

One other quick note on the Texas Fan Fotos: I got a phone call from Gary Clark and an e-mail from Vince Long, who ID'd the car being push-started at Green Valley as belonging to the famed Oklahoma City-based Smith Bros., Frank and Charlie. Charlie drove the famed Plain Vanilla roadster that swept all national event honors in 1964 by winning both the Winternationals and U.S. Nationals, so this probably was Frank in the car, which had a T roadster rather than a Bantam.

Enjoy your weekend; I'll see you next week.