Benefield: At 76, Windsor race car driver hopes he's just getting started

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


WINDSOR — Silas Boden fell in love when he was 15.

She was a car.

It was a 1946 Mercury Coupe. Black.

“If I didn’t spend so much time washing and waxing, my grades would have been better,” he said.

But my guess is that Boden did well enough in class — after all, he went on to a 50-year career in the construction business and established Boden Construction. He is a past president of the North Coast Builders Exchange and lives in a neighborhood off of Windsor’s Arata Lane that he helped develop.

But his love affair with cars, fast cars, never went away. When he built the home he shared with Peggy, his wife of 34 years, he designed a four-car garage with a standard front door but a roll-away back door for easier access to all of the vehicles inside. When he retired from Boden Construction in 2009, the now 76-year-old bought himself a present: a two-post lift so he can poke around under his cars without spending hours on his back on a roller creeper.

“I’m a fair shadetree mechanic,” he said.

When his two kids were little, he got his speed fix from motorboats. But a number of years ago, Boden started attending track days where novice drivers could learn the ropes safely. He drives a couple of spec Miatas but also has a 1987 El Camino that has a Corvette engine and it’s not remotely street legal.

And track events were all well and good, but …

“I want to get the feeling of real racing. The cars they drive on track days, they have to drive them home and then to work the next day,” he said.

When it’s a race, people are less tender-hearted, it seems.

“After awhile, I really wanted to know the adrenaline rush of being out there three cars wide,” he said.

So Boden has been pursuing his racing license. Next weekend he’ll drive at Monterey’s Laguna Seca track in his spec Miata and, if all goes well, come home with a competition license allowing him — with some caveats — to race in myriad events. He’s already got his calendar marked.

“There is such an adrenaline rush,” he said. “It just feels good to go out there and learn something new. You have to stay focused, you have to be mentally sharp. You are not out there for a scenic Sunday drive.”

And neither is anyone else, which changes the dynamic from track days fairly dramatically.

“On track days you don’t try to steal their apex, as they say,” he said. “In a race, you have to expect that whatever a driver can do will happen.”

This push for his racing license doesn’t surprise Boden’s daughter, Paula Becker of Santa Rosa.

“I think dad was always the daredevil type,” she said. His antics while she was growing up water-skiing come to mind.

But Becker says she’s regularly assured by her dad that he has a healthy dose of safety countering any of that old daredevil streak.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “Just doing what you dream of and just going for it.”

It was Peggy who was most concerned when her husband would pull out of the driveway and head for the track. But Peggy, who died in October after a long illness, also knew she married a guy who bought a ski boat with a big engine and dropped a Corvette engine into an El Camino. She knew who her husband is — part speed hungry, but plenty cautious.

“My wife, she would worry, but I would always tell her I want to go back and play another day, so I’m always careful,” he said. “That is the thing about getting some age on you — you tend to be a bit more cautious at 76 then you are at 26.”

But why racing? Why not, say, golf?

“It takes a whole friggin’ day to do that and you have to do it often to get good at it,” he said. “I’d rather be messing around with cars.”

And maybe golf is cliché as a retiree activity. Boden says there are plenty of fellow grayhairs (his term) out on the track. The difference with him, he says, is he’s come to track driving and competition much later than many of his fellow drivers.

“I’m one of the late bloomers, if you will,” he said.

But Boden knows his limitations. He’s cautious and he knows it.

He said his son Jim jokes that his reaction time is measured by hourglass rather than stopwatch.

“That’s probably the weak point; I might get a little overcautious,” he said. “I brake a little early going into a turn and may not be as aggressive when there’s two of us, wheel to wheel, side by side.”

No, Boden doesn’t want to get hurt. But he’s also a practical man. The Miata he races was $7,000 before he made some tweaks to it.

“I don’t have a lot of those seven thousand dollars to replace car after car after car,” he said.

In talking about his racing goals, he strikes the same practical tone.

“One of my goals is to consistently run mid-pack,” he said. “If you have anywhere from 40 to 72 cars, that’s a pretty good accomplishment to run mid-pack. I think that’s a realistic goal for me.”

And racing for Boden isn’t really about goals or results. It’s about joy.

“I’m having fun at it,” he said. “I don’t think Lewis Hamilton has anything to worry about it.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine