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Louisville’s Ben Rhodes making a name for himself on NASCAR Camping World Truck circuit


By Mark Hansel
Special to KyForward

When Ben Rhodes drove past Kentucky Speedway as a kid, on his way to race go karts or Bandloeros not long ago, racing at the “big track” seemed like a dream.

That dream comes true Thursday Night when Rhodes and the other NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers compete in the first race over Kentucky Speedway’s new surface.

The race kicks off the NASCAR tripleheader weekend, which culminates with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 Saturday night.

“I never thought that I’d actually have a chance to race there, or certainly win there,” Rhodes said. “I feel very good about heading into it with a career-best finish.”

Rhodes discusses strategy with a member of his team prior to a race earlier this year. (Photo Provided)

Rhodes discusses strategy with a member of his team prior to a race earlier this year. (Photo Provided)

The Louisville native is just 19 years old, but is racing full time on the Truck circuit this year and already has some NASCAR XFINITY Series experience.

Earlier this year, Rhodes flirted with his first Truck Series win at Kansas Speedway before crashing while attempting to pass Johnny Sauter for the lead on the last lap. Two weeks ago, he started on the pole and finished second at Gateway Motorsports Park in Illinois.

The driver of the ThorSport Racing No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota Tundra is currently tenth in driver standings.

Louisville is not exactly a breeding ground for NASCAR drivers and there is no history of racing in the Rhodes family. If not for the purchase of a go kart from a family friend, Rhodes may never have started racing.

“We bought it and it sat in the garage for about two years and my brother finally said, “Hey, can I drive it around the house and then said hey, can I race it.”

Rhodes said once he saw his brother racing, he decided he wanted to try it, but things didn’t go very smoothly at first.

“I did horrible the first time,” Rhodes said. “I was lapped, I was wrecked, but I was too scared to tell my dad after I bought this cart that I wanted to quit. So, I kept going and I’m sure glade I did because it’s turned into an awesome experience.

Rhodes started racing go carts at age 7 and after having success on dirt and asphalt, moved up to Bandoleros in 2008. He earned state and Midwest titles in 2009, and adapted seamlessly to Legends Cars in 2010.

Late Model Stock Cars were next and he raced a full season in 2012. Later that year, the racing world began to take notice when he was invited to the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Richmond. He competed against NASCAR stars and finished sixth, the highest of any rookie in the race.

In 2013, he won six Late Model Stock events and was selected to the NASCAR Next program, designed to spotlight the sport’s rising stars.

He made 10 XFINITY Series starts in 2015 and captured the pole at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

He decide to race the Camping World Truck Series exclusively this year because he wants to compete for a championship and remain focused on that goal.

“The progress this year has been a little up and down, but we’ve turned our season around, especially in the last two races,” Rhodes said. “The reason for that is we’ve got a new team, new crew chief, new driver; we’re all rookies here and we’re all learning. The first few races we had a lot of wrecked race trucks.”

Some of it was bad racing luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the setbacks that come with just trying to make improvements.

“At Daytona, we avoided two or three wrecks and the truck was all tore up, but we still finished seventh,” Rhodes said. “At Atlanta we got a sixth-place finish, but we weren’t happy with how the truck was handling, so we tore the body off of that truck.”

Trucks also sustained damage at Martinsville, Dover and Kansas, so there has been a lot of fixing of race trucks this year.

“At Charlotte and Texas, we had to take it easy, because we took trucks that were OK, but now how we liked them,” Rhodes said. “We were just trying to race easy at that point and make sure we survived until we could get all of really good trucks back together.”

An eleventh-place finish at Texas, Rhodes said, was the turning point in the season. The team followed that by competing for wins at Iowa and Gateway, finishing fourth and second respectively.

That sets the stage for this week’s NCWTS Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 and Rhodes has a good feeling about the first-ever race on Kentucky Speedway’s new surface.

“We have a really fast truck that is being put together right now and it makes me feel very confident knowing how hard these guys are working,” Rhodes said. “In light of recent circumstances, they’ve just been amazing.”

While Rhodes was competing in Texas, ThorSport racing suffered a fire that destroyed about 25 percent of its facility and caused significant water damage. Despite the setback, the Sandusky, Ohio-based team continues to move forward.

“We’re in about six different buildings right now, trying to assemble everything,” Rhodes said.     “The truck that we’re running in Kentucky was actually under all of that water in the basement. We fished it out and it would be a heck of a story if we say that truck came from four feet under and won a race, especially this one.”

There are not words, Rhodes says, to describe how incredible it would be to win his first Camping World Truck Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

“Not only because it’s my home track but because we have so many people coming out to watch us, friends, family; people I haven’t seen for a very long time,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes expects the cheering section to exceed 4,000 and said the new surface enhances his change to bring home a winner.

“When we can go to short tracks, or tracks that haven’t been racing at for a very long time, we do really good,” Rhodes said. “I think that’s because we aren’t playing catch-up on notes. It’s going to be fun here, because we are all trying to figure it out together.”

The race will draw a lot of attention from NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY drivers as well because they also have never driven on the new surface under race conditions.

Several drivers were on the track for organizational testing recently, but this will be the first real test of the surface.

“All the drivers, including myself, watch the film from the previous years,” Rhodes said. “They don’t have anything to watch, so they are going to watch us and try to figure it out.”

Young drivers such as Rhodes, that have some early success, still have to prove to other drivers that they belong, and that is not always easy.

Sauter, 38, called Rhodes a “bozo” after the wreck at Kansas, despite replays that show the more experienced driver was not blameless in the incident.

Rhodes admits to an “old school” mentality that includes driving the tires off a truck without being reckless. He knows it will take some time to be accepted and he’s fine with that.

“I respect veterans and I try to race everybody clean, but the minute I don’t get respect, I’m not going to give you room and respect,” Rhodes said.

“We don’t have referees out there watching our every move and making sure we’re driving each other correctly,” Rhodes said. “We’re kind of self-policed out there and if I have to move you out of the way, I will. I’ll do what it takes to put us in victory lane, or get the highest spot that we can with a clean race car.”

As with most drivers on the Camping World Truck circuit, Rhodes would like to have success in the Sprint Cup Series, but he’s not putting too much pressure on himself.

“I used to think about it a lot and say, ‘In a perfect world I will be here at this time and here at this time,’ but man that’s a lot of added pressure to put on yourself,” Rhodes said. “Truthfully, you don’t know where you are going to be, because it’s not really up to you, it’s based on the opportunities that arise and how well you do on the racetrack. I just set a bunch of small goals and the opportunities will come, but until then we’re just going to keep having fun.”

Winning the first race on the new surface at Kentucky Speedway in front of his hometown fans would certainly be fun.

Mark Hansel is managing editor for NKyTribune


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