By the beginning of the 1960’s, the bobsled track at Mt. Van Hoevenberg had hosted, an Olympics, a World Championship and countless other national and international events. In 1961, the track had the opportunity to host a second Bobsled World Championships.
At the time, the vast majority of American bobsled athletes were Adirondack locals, and perhaps best known was Stan Benham, of Lake Placid, who won the 4-man gold in Lake Placid’s first World’s in 1949.
In 1961, Stan Benham was still in racing form. In fact, among the racing community, the 47-year-old, former Lake Placid fire chief and a 33-year-old ski instructor from Italy, named Eugenio Monti, were considered the best in history.
Benham and Monti, head to head in Lake Placid, was set up to be a battle that would be remembered in bobsled history. It was Stan Benham’s last race and the race that proved Eugenio Monti, under tough conditions, was the best driver at the time.
“The Fastest Run of All”
The event was the Saturday heat of the four-man. Mt. Van Hoevenberg’s mile-long track with the steep, plummeting curves, was faster than other tracks in Europe, including the home course of Monti. It at this course, in 1956, at the National Championships, that Benham established the four-man course record of 1:08.88. Monti was not far behind him and lowered his two-man time weeks prior to the Worlds, to an amazing 1:09.22, on a lighter sled than the American’s used.
That Saturday, running neck and neck all day, were Monti and Benham. It was a gray cloudy day with drizzle, and the course was trickier than usual. There were bad cuts in the ice at Shady, and all sliders seemed to be having trouble with Zig-Zag, its split-second reverse turn, almost claiming victims. But while others were having trouble, Monti and Benham weren’t, and they both finished the day with impressive times. Day one was over, and day two loomed ahead.
Saturday night came, and the rain with it. By Sunday, the temperature shot up to 45 degrees, and the course was almost washed away. As Benham said at the time, “The only way we could race up there, would be in row-boats.” The race jury decided to call it off and Saturday’s results were deemed final. While no track records were broken, as had been anticipated and Benham’s 4 man time remained the track record for a single heat, the final time were Monti 2:18.40 and Benham 2:18.70, just three tenths of a second between them.
“I’d like to have had a try at catching Genio,” said Benham, “although he seems to be a pretty tough guy to catch. Anyway, this is the last one for me. I’m packing it in.”