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Utah reservist and his family hooked on chariot racing.

Like a scene out of a modern-day version of the movie "Ben-Hur," Clinton Bennett stands in his charoit behind a couple of anxious racing steeds, waiting for the starting gate to let them loose.

For Bennett, chariot racing is as much a hobby as it is a sport. His family has been involved since 1965, first racing Shetland ponies. By the mid-1970s, the family was racing quarter horses.

"This hobby has been a family affair ever since I can remember," said Bennett, a master sergeant and shop chief in the Electrical and Environmental Division of the 419th Fighter Wing's Accessories Flight, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. "I began racing chariots in 1978 and have been hooked ever since."

Brian Gilmore, a technical sergeant and specialist in the 419th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, has driven a chariot for the Bennett family for the past two years.

"I was happy to be a part of the team when Clinton won fourth in his division during the world championship last year," Gilmore said.

Each team of two horses must pull a combined minimum weight of 275 pounds. This weight includes the driver, chariot, harness and bridle.

The track is 440 yards long. Races include up to four teams and usually last less than 22 seconds.

"It is such a rush, and it's very addictive," Bennett said. "It's hard to explain the feeling to people who haven't experienced it themselves.

"The horses are so anxious to run, if you're not holding on tight you can get thrown off coming out the gate."

For the Bennetts, chariot racing is a family affair'. Until about a year ago, his older brother, Richard, a member of the 419th Maintenance Squadron, was one of his frequent competitors. Now Clinton races against his younger brother, Mark.

Clinton admits he and his brothers sometimes get into friendly arguments over the competition.

"However, we realize when it comes down to it, we're racing for fun," he said.

Chariot racing is an expensive hobby. The price of a quarter horse begins at $500 and can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. A chariot, made out of aluminum and fiberglass, can run $1,000 or more. Harness gear can cost around $500.

"We try to buy 3-year-old quarter horses," Clinton said. "Currently, we have six horses, all of them ex-racing horses. We have three horses tot each learn. One horse is used as a spare in ease another gets injured or needs to rest. A spare could mean the difference between whining or losing during the world championship races."

The Bennetts are members of the Beehive Chariot Club. They race locally at the Golden Spike Event Center in nearby Ogden. Races begin Thanksgiving weekend and are held every weekend through March.

Clinton and his brothers are also trainers for the horses.

"We begin conditioning the horses in mid-September," he said. "After racing season, the horses are put out to pasture until the season begins again."

(Ms. Johns works in the 419th FW Office of Public Affairs at Hill AFB.)
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Title Annotation:Round The Reserve
Author:Johns, Stephanie
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:507
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