by Olivia Wasilko
A North Buffalo Township resident spent this past weekend as a judge at the Antique Automobile Club of America annual Grand National event in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Jack Bennett is a well-known man in the world of automobiles. He has been a classic car owner for most of his life.
“I used to have seven Chevrolets. Right now I just have one left. I did have a 1964 Chevrolet Corvette, a 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS409, a 1965 Chevrolet Corvette, a 1965 Chevelle SS convertible, a 1966 Corvette and a 1967 RS-SS Camaro convertible,” he said.
Bennett, a self-proclaimed “Chevy guy,” said his personal preference does not stand in the way of judging vehicles of a specific make.
” I am more oriented towards Chevrolet, but as a chief judge here, locally, I would tell people that this is not the day that you’d want to choose to support Chevrolet or Ford. This is a day that you’re impartial to brandings and you judge by how the vehicle conforms to its standards. I remember judging a show over in Butler years ago and they put me in the motorcycle class. I looked at a motorcycle and there was mud up under the hood of the back fender, and grease dripping everywhere, which indicated that there was either too much or something was broken. The headlights were cracked, too, and all those things enter into the score. And the driver had no idea of what the standard was and got upset and said, ‘Well, of course there’s mud under the fender. I drive it.’ But that was not the standard. The standard is how they come from the factory, and it didn’t come from the factory with mud under the fender. So you need to know what the standard is and you need to know how to get to that standard and stay with it if you want to go farther. The only thing I stress to the people who compete when I’m judging is that they keep their personal likes and dislikes to themselves because that has no part in judging vehicles.”
However, he saw more than just Chevys on Saturday.
“I was judging in the various 1962-1963 stop production class, which is the way the vehicles came when they came from the factory in those years,” Bennett said.
Along with the cars at the Grand National, Bennett has seen some unusual cars in his career.
“I’ve seen a Kaiser Darrin, which you don’t see very many of, some restored milk trucks in the commercial section, military vehicles like a Jeep, from WWI or WWII, the Bantam that was made in Butler. Even motorbikes, like the Indian motorbike, that was highly prized. These cars are usually featured in what we call the Driver Participation class, where the vehicle is looked at for its originality but not for its condition.” When it comes to show conformations, he explained that no particular brand ensured a win. “It’s more to do with the owner and attention to detail.”
Car enthusiasts like himself agree. Bennett is no stranger to judging cars, as he has earned considerable seniority in the field. “I’ve been judging cars nationally since 1992 when I went to a special Fall Meet in Butler Pennsylvania, and I’ve been judging ever since. Judges, just like cars, get an award. You get points for every school you attend and points for every show that you judge at. Right now, over the weekend, I earned my 90th point and I will soon have another ten points for a board, which is 25 points. I’m on my fourth board.”
When he’s not judging, Bennett still enjoys competing against the locals. His 2001 Chevrolet Corvette convertible can be seen at “cruise-in” non-judged shows strictly for the owner’s enjoyment around Kittanning, Butler, and Shannock Valley, where he is a chief judge.
Bennett’s passion for cars started when he was very young. Cars were less common when he grew up, which led to his interest.
“Cars when I grew up, which was a long, long time ago, were a luxury. Students didn’t have cars in high school. If there were one or two student cars in the parking lot, everyone was amazed that they had their own car. A family had one car. A rich family had two cars. Now, every family has two cars, or three, or four. It’s just a different time.”
As he’s gotten older, Bennett participates in the competition world more for his own pleasure. Although he sacrifices money for gas, meals, and lodging that go along with shows, he considers the fun he has to be worth it. He and his Corvette don’t always take home a first-place prize anymore, but he doesn’t mind.
“I know when I went to shows in the past and took the best car I had, I was there to win. I’m glad that era, for me, is over. I get more enjoyment from participating now,” he explained. “Just going around, talking to your friends, and hearing what they’ve got recently, or what they’re working on, and having a good time. That’s what matters.”
Bennett gave this piece of advice to younger competitors, whether they show cars or hit homeruns: “Whatever you do, do it well and according to standard. And have a good time while you’re doing it.”