A Publication of WTVP

Led by road racer Michael Benét, Kauth & Mayeur services the finest import and premium automobiles in Peoria and beyond.

Since 1977, Kauth & Mayeur has been the trusted service center for import automobiles in the River City. Current owner and president, Michael Benét, a sports car road racer since the age of 15, says he may just be the luckiest guy on the planet because he gets to work with his passion.

“I go to work every day and look forward to it,” he says. Benét conducts his business in the 10,000-square-foot shop on Orange Street near the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center—or in his exclusive red Porsche GT3, which he considers his office, and where the interview for this article took place.

High-Performance Tuning
About a decade ago, former owner Peter Kauth saw an opportunity to retire and approached Benét, a frequent customer for 20 years. “He came to me and said, ‘I want you to be the man to take this over because I feel that you will be appropriate and continue my name,’” he recalls. “I honor the fact that he laid the groundwork for us to do as well as we do today.” After buying out the other owners, Benét became sole owner of the business in early 2000.

Kauth & Mayeur’s bread and butter is the service and maintenance of import cars from Audi to Volvo, in addition to premium models like Aston-Martin, Bentley and Rolls-Royce. “Just last week, we had a Maserati, an Aston-Martin, two Ferraris, several Porsches, a Bentley and Rolls-Royce in all the bays at one time,” says Benét, who emphasizes the strong market in central Illinois for premium cars, despite few local options for purchasing and caring for them.

“You can go to Chicago,” he adds. “You can go to St. Louis. But we have the diagnostic tools, the equipment and the knowledge to do it.” When it comes to purchasing a premium car, Kauth & Mayeur has a wealth of contacts at dealerships around the country and refers customers who are in the market for specific models to them.

In addition to top-notch service, the 12 skilled employees at Kauth & Mayeur also build race cars. The team recently built two Porsche 911s for a pair of local drivers. “It takes four to six months to turn a basic chassis into a winner,” claims Benét. Many of the engines built in the shop are transformed into record holders and champion vehicles. And once the racers move on to the next level, they often sell these cars for a profit.

The sagging economy of recent years did not affect the shop too severely, and Benét is happy to report that his business had a fantastic 2010. He observes that “Peoria has nearly its own economy. We have found, in general, that when we hear of woe…most of Peoria is less affected than what we see nationally.” And with bays remaining full, 2011 is looking to be a fruitful year for the company as well.

Business to Racing and Back
Before taking the helm at Kauth & Mayeur, Benét had been a real estate executive and systems commodities broker, and for 15 years, he owned a firm that provided accounting equipment to small businesses. But as technology advanced in the field, Benét saw the writing on the wall, and sold his company to an East Coast conglomerate. “I flourished in the Peoria area. Peoria treated me extremely well,” he says. “I said I would be the first to leave…I ended up being the only one that stayed.”

In addition to his business ventures, Benét was also a successful race car driver. His love for cars came from an unlikely source. “My mother was a gear head,” he claims. She moved her family off a horse farm and to Peoria, where Benét went through District 150, ICC and Bradley University, all the while charting a racing career. He ultimately worked with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), earned a license to race sports cars, and started driving competitively at the age of 15. “At the time it was against the rules,” he admits. “It’s a different world now. It was easier to do that kind of thing then.”

Benét’s forte is sports car road racing, which differs from mainstream events like NASCAR races, which take place on a closed, oval track. The best examples of road racing are European competitions such as the Le Mans, or 24 Hours of Daytona here in the U.S. These races take place on a road course that generally takes five to 10 hours to complete and lacks the side-by-side action, sponsorships and television time that NASCAR offers to fans. “I think NASCAR is the best business model, where sports car racing is thrilling for me because of the heritage,” Benét comments. “And, I like going left and right versus just going left all day.”

Benét has competed in a variety of racing series. He was the 1990 champion of the Midwest Council races, placed third in the Improved Touring class in the 1993 SCCA championships, and was even voted Road Racer of the Year by the SCCA. Next, he got involved with SCCA spec racing, where he was a lap record holder at Road America and held many national wins and pole positions. Benét then took up “open wheel” racing (in which the wheels of the car are outside the body) in the Formula Mazda class and Barber Dodge Pro Series, and was a testing hopeful with a NASCAR Craftsman Truck team. “Sponsorship woes reared their ugly head,” says Benét, “and I ran out of saleable youth.”

As his racing opportunities slowed, he began to refocus on his business. “[Road racing] may not have been the best pick, especially sponsorship-wise and business-wise,” he says. “It’s much more difficult to be a road racer or sports car racer than it is to be a NASCAR racer.”

But despite the cost, Benét continues to race on his own dime. “You know the best way to end up with a small fortune is to start racing with a big fortune,” he jokes. “I may have not chosen the best path race-wise, but I went with my passion versus going after the dollar.”

He is licensed with the National Auto Sports Association and competes in the Spec Miata class in a Mazda Miata. That class is popular because of the close racing and its relatively low cost. In 2009, Benét was leading the Spec Miata Championship, when other duties called and he was forced to relinquish the lead and tend to business. He still placed well in the championship, though, and continues to race as time allows.

Steady Service & Street Survival
Outside of his business and racing career, Benét finds time to be a lead instructor for the local Street Survival program, which gives young drivers hands-on driving experience in real-world situations. The work of this organization has been credited with helping to reduce teen traffic-related deaths by 50 percent in Illinois. “I am very proud of that,” he says.

Benét owns a 550 horsepower Porsche track car, a Porsche 911 GT3, several other late-model Porsche roadsters and a Ferrari coupe, all of which offer different handling when driven on the track. This cluster of cars helps to keep his driving skills sharp and conditioned. He is also a member of the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, which is similar to a golf club membership, but with cars. “It allows me to go and drive at speed when life’s constraints give me a moment to do so.”

In 2011, Benét continues to race and coach up-and-coming drivers, in addition to spending time with his young sons, Sean, 13, and Jensen, 8. Both boys share his interest in racing and have their own go-karts. As for Kauth & Mayeur, the company intends to continue its steady service, as well as extend a hand to the women of Peoria.

In a male-dominated industry, women often feel that they do not have the upper hand when it comes to vehicle care and maintenance, and Kauth & Mayeur would like to change that. “We want the Peoria woman to have a place where they can take their car and drop the keys off,” says Benét. “We think we are doing a good job at it, but we want to do better.” iBi