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Motocross Racer Makes the Grade After Career Change

Todd Bennick’s career took a decidedly left turn several years ago — one that has made him a respected member of the construction industry.

Tue September 01, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

Todd Bennick’s career took a decidedly left turn several years ago — one that has made him a respected member of the construction industry.

Bennick owns and operates Bennick Grading in Nebo, located in the mountains of western North Carolina near Marion.

As a kid, Bennick began motocross racing, a pastime that continued into adulthood as a professional career. But finding someone to help build and maintain his practice course, at a reasonable price, proved difficult.

“Well, it was in the early 90s and I bought my first bulldozer to maintain my private practice track, but after I got it home I realized I needed to find a way to make the payment on it,” Bennick said. “So I ran an ad in the paper and started to get a little work using the dozer. Then problem number two came up: I didn’t have a way to move it, so I bought a dump truck and a trailer and from there the business grew to what it is today.”

Although he was making a living as a motocross racer, he understood that clearing and grading could become a safer and more lucrative career move for him.

Today, Bennick Grading has established itself as one of the region’s top firms. Helping his company achieve that status in recent years has been Benchmark Tool & Supply, with offices in Raleigh and Concord.

Benchmark and Topcon Prove to Be Good Partners

Benchmark is one of the nation’s top suppliers of surveying and construction tools and is a dealer of Topcon GPS systems.

Bennick has purchased three pieces of GPS-equipped machinery from Benchmark that have proven to be invaluable to his business success. Those include a pair of John Deere 700 series dozers and a Hitachi 350 excavator.

The machines have Topcon’s 3D MC Machine Control systems mounted in them that make the job of precision grading much finer than the old, tried and true methods.

“The benefit of having the Topcon system on an excavator, for instance, is that you move your massed dirt really close before the dozer comes in and cleans and straightens it up,” Bennick said. “I looked at it for probably five to seven years before I decided to go ahead and invest in the technology. I knew GPS would be a good fit for me one day but the timing would have to be right.”

He said that he knew there would be some initial skepticism and push back from some of his people who had become used to grading with shots and strings, but that eventually they would see the benefits of using a GPS.

“On a couple of the first jobs after we got the Topcon, my management guys, Tim Morris and Jason Floyd, didn’t get a model built on the GPS to work those sites, so they were out there pulling strings and shooting,” Bennick said. “I gave them a hard time by saying ’sitting out there in that 90 degree weather will break you’ and they said ’you are exactly right, we are going to do models on these next jobs.’ We decided then and there that we were not going to cut any corners and we are going to move the GPS machines in. It certainly speeds up the finished product."

For road building, site work, contour grading or any other complex surface grading project, Topcon’s GPS system has literally and figuratively been groundbreaking.

Companies like Bennick’s have realized the advantages and have been able to nearly eliminate the use of grade stakes.

He demoed various GPS systems at a Con/AGG Expo in Las Vegas several years ago and found Topcon’s to be the smoothest one in his opinion in terms of how it operated and displayed. In addition, Bennick said that although it is a complex piece of equipment, its ease of use appealed to him.

Still, it took an onsite and potentially expensive problem for Bennick to finally pull the trigger on buying the Topcon GPS tool.

“We were on a commercial job in Morganton,” Bennick said. “Grade stakes were set on the job, my guys were out there grading it and we were trucking dirt in. There was confusion in that either the operator made a mistake or the surveyor made a mistake, but at the end of the day it cost us about $20,000 because we imported too much dirt. So we had to load it right back on the truck and haul it back out again.

“The great thing about using GPS equipment is if your model is built right everything should be done according to the plan. You move dirt one time, not two or three. There are so many benefits to doing it just once — from wear and tear on the equipment to the cost of fuel — and having a GPS system makes all that go a lot smoother and is much more cost effective.”

Big Projects Hinge on Small Details

One of Bennick’s current projects involves grading five new practice football fields at Appalachian State University in Boone.

The work demands precision to the hundredth of an inch because these fields have exact contours and need crowns put in to allow for water to drain properly.

The Topcon 3D system has made the job easier and has increased his company’s expertise in the eyes of the general contractors for whom he works.

“It is so accurate that it will put you within 500th of an inch,” Bennick said. “The contractor that is doing the mass grading and excavation at ASU does not have GPS, so he has contracted with us to do the fine tuning to where we are doing everything per plan. If he had to do it the old way himself it would take probably 5 times longer to do it versus using a GPS. We can send one guy in a dozer with the GPS equipment and he pushes a button and it automatically starts putting these fields on perfect grade.”

Lake Projects a Specialty

Bennick’s company, located near the shores of picturesque Lake James, has become expert in all types of earthmoving and excavation, including shore stabilization and rock and dock work on lake shores. The company also uses a sectional barge in its lake work that is useful in repair and recovery work.

Bennick does both residential and commercial projects, as well. On the commercial side, the company generally works on one- to four-acre sites preparing them for restaurants, shopping centers and manufacturing facilities.

“Places like Cracker Barrel or Applebee’s are a good fit for our commercial side,” Bennick said. “We do all the site work from the raw site until the GC is ready to do the foundation. That includes the clearing, grading, pad preparation, utilities, sewer lines and water. We do most of that work in house but we will sub the utility work and the concrete/asphalt work.”

One of Bennick’s projects in 2013 involved constructing an elaborate and complex underground drainage system for a factory in Asheville. Designed by an engineering firm, the drainage and retention system will hold a tremendous amount of rainwater after a big storm and then release it slowly in order to mitigate flooding at the surface.

He said that his company installed several hundred feet of 48- or 60-in. (121 or 152 cm) pipe that all hooked together to form the retention system.

Now, Bennick is doing a similar drainage project at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Salisbury.

Bennick Credits

Others for Success

In 17 years as a company, Bennick Grading is to the point now where it has about 20 employees and around 50 machines in its stock.

He credits his management people, Tim Morris and Jason Floyd, for keeping the company running smoothly.

“I also believe that my success is due first and foremost to the fact that I always put the Lord first — that’s the firm foundation that has gotten me where I am.”

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