In 1989, 2 men (Jim Bartel & Bud Bennett) from different aspects of racing and business, joined into a partnership to restore and race vintage racecars. Not only did a successful racing business get its start, a lifelong relationship between their children (Craig Bennett & Leah Bartel) began. Now, 30 years later, the next generation is taking the reins.
There are circumstances in life that can be viewed as “meant to be”, those of Leah & Craig could be just that. Before they met, or Jim and Bud knew each other's names, Leah had taken pictures of Craig in his pink Camaro at the Mid-Ohio TransAm race in 1987. Leah had been around racing just as long as Craig had – sharing a common passion they had not yet become aware of. In April of 1988, Leah and Craig finally connected, Leah introducing herself to Craig at his dad's shop located on the opposite side of an industrial park building in Southfield (both had been there unknowingly for years). At the time of introductions, Craig and his brother Kirt were working on a car for the Detroit Grand Prix TransAm race – another pink car.
Growing up with the love of racing, Leah had an interest in driving herself. While driving a Formula Ford at a Waterford Hills test day, she had a mishap with a VW sedan on the track. Unbeknownst to her, Craig was at the track, he was the first to her, knocking on her helmet saying, “Are you in there?”, thus making Leah laugh.
At the same time Jim had a 1964 289 Cobra and a Cicale Ralt, originally driven by Jim Trueman. Leah would drive Craig up to the parts store in the Cobra and Jim wanted work done on the Ralt and someone to drive it. The connection seemed meant to be. Leah and her dad soon found themselves helping Bud and Craig with their TransAm car. Later that summer Craig first drove the Cicale Ralt at Waterford in a regional SCCA race, setting the track record.
Soon after Jim acquired a 1969 Lola 163 CANAM car in need of restoration. Craig began working on Jim's cars full-time, leaving his dad's construction company. Jim called this side business Restored Memories. Craig drove the then 20-year-old CANAM car for the first time at Road America, finishing 5th. As relationships grew between Bud & Jim and Craig & Leah, vintage racing became Craig's new avenue into racing. Bud & Jim ventured into their partnership with Restored Memories in late 1989.
While Craig developed skills building monocoque chassis, rebuilding a LG gearbox and various other needed talents to restore a car, Leah worked with Craig during the summers when not in class at College for Creative Studies.
The first customer restoration that Restored Memories completed was a 1954 Kimberly Clark 375MM Ferrari, that had sat in a garage for decades. Once completed the Ferrari was taken to Pebble Beach Concourse, in 2014 it sold for $9.5M.
Due to Craig's race preparation, racing and winning in the Lola 163 against the likes of Brian Redman, Bobby Brown, George Follmer, and Vic Elford – Restored Memories gained customers that had CANAM cars. In 1992, Jim chose to leave Restored Memories to pursue his engineering passions. Soon after Restored Memories became RM Motorsports. 1992 also marked the union of Leah & Craig – they got married. RM then moved to Wixom, into a 5,000 sq. ft unit.
Craig, with his dad and brother continued to expand the customer race prep and track service. 95% of RM's customers have come by word of mouth or through their presence at the track. Their reputation was known as fair, honest, wanting to win, with whatever car the customer drove, which continues to this day.
From the beginning, RM has been a well-rounded business, providing all aspects of the restoration, race prep and track services; rebuilding chassis, paint & body repair, car setup and track testing of the car.
RM has always been a family business. Leah & Craig were always together at the track – Leah taking pictures, polishing wheels or supporting Craig's racing. On Mother's Day the car Craig was driving (an A Sports Racer) was donned with “Happy Mother's Day” for both their moms. Their first anniversary (as well as their 10th & 20th) were spent at Road Atlanta – the wing of the CANAM car reading “Happy Anniversary”.
In 2001, RM motorsports was awarded a prototype project from Chrysler – building the Dodge Tomahawk. Soon after, RM managed and built the Ford EX show vehicle. During this time, RM moved into a 10,000 sq. ft building, also in Wixom. As the word spread that RM Motorsports was more than just racing, they were introduced with the Prince of Thailand (now the King). Since 2002, they have restored 15 street cars for the now King. Each car is a ground up work of art, making each vehicle “NEW”, installing AC if needed, removing normal road noise and making a 60's car drive like a modern-day car.
On December 18th, 2005, the RM family was hit hard with the loss of Craig and Leah's 8-year-old daughter. She passed suddenly 3 weeks before her 9th birthday. The RM crew – team – family rallied behind them, helping them heal and move forward. Bud & Jim helped them to start a foundation in her honor, the Spirit of Alexandria Foundation.
2012 saw RM Motorsports move into their own, 16,000 sq. ft building, remaining in Wixom. Their new home houses a complete machine shop, paint booth, hoist, and showroom for the 10 fulltime employees. At any given time, there are at least 30 cars ranging in age from a 1909 Christie Pre-War Indy car to a 2016 Lola LMP1.
Just as seasons change, so do the roles in a business. In 2017 Bud made the decision that he wanted to start working towards retiring. It was an easy decision for Leah and Craig, they started down the road to purchasing RM Motorsports – once again owned by a Bennett & Bartel.
As of January 2018, Craig and Leah became owners of RM, 50/50. As this story has come full circle, what a better way to begin the next chapter, 2019 marks 30 years of restorations, race prep and racing for RM. Keeping the history alive through the cars that are worked on, it has never been about the money or prestige, it's a passion as stated in the original name – Restored Memories. Each vehicle that comes through the doors at RM Motorsports receives the same respect and mechanical care so that the customer can share their piece of history on the streets or at the track.