July 04, 2010|By Steven Cole Smith, Orlando Sentinel Automotive Editor
BITHLO — Benny The Bomb slipped behind the wheel of a white Buick Lesabre and blew himself up.
Flames rose more than 25 feet in the air. The doors, the hood and the trunk flew off.
Benny's real name is Benjamin J. Koske, 73, of Palm Bay. He's a stuntman who uses explosives to destroy a car — while he's in it — at shows across the nation.
His most recent performance was at Crash-A-Rama at Orlando Speed World in Bithlo on a recent Saturday.
The final act of the night, his stunt began just after midnight. His Buick had been rigged with a witch's brew of explosives, perfected after 30 years of performing. He places them strategically so that when they ignite, shrapnel flies away from him. Even with a fire-resistant suit and a helmet, he has just 15 seconds to get out of the car.
But things don't always go according to plan. "I spent 30 days in the burn ward at the hospital," says Benny. There have also been broken legs and ribs, and once he blew his stomach open.
He became Benny the Bomb comparatively late in life. He had a job with a company working for the space program — "I put two men on the moon before I got laid off," he says — and that's when he started performing as a driver in stunt shows.
His company called him back to work, "But I told them to forget it — I'd found something I liked better. Freedom."
Not long after, Benny The Bomb says he saw a Russian in Saskatchewan, Canada, blow himself up while sitting in a chair. He learned the secret of what he calls the Russian Mystery Trick, but rather than use a chair, he built a bunch of coffins from thin boards, and went on tour.
Among his first customers was Robin Braig, now president of the Daytona International Speedway. Fresh out of college in 1981, Braig was working for a minor league baseball team in Vero Beach when a man showed up and handed him a business card.
"It was actually a matchbook cover," Braig recalls. "He said he would blow himself up at second base for five nights straight during the seventh-inning stretch," Braig says. "I think he charged us $200."
Benny's prices have gone up since, but he won't say how much.
"So every night, we'd wheel him out in his coffin, which was sitting on the trailer we used for lawn maintenance, and he'd blow up," Braig says.
All went well Monday and Tuesday. The weather changed Wednesday. That night, Benny The Bomb seemed to explode with much more force than before.