Skip to content

Ben Kennedy, great-grandson of NASCAR founder, making his own path behind the wheel

May 9, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Stylized Portraits Getty Images

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie Ben Kennedy hasn’t taken the usual path of a young driver. But perhaps that was to be expected.

The great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and son of International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy received a thorough education in the sport by working jobs at Daytona International Speedway – everything from cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for track employees to creating signs for events at “The World Center of Racing.”

Kennedy, 21, also just completed a more formal education as well, receiving his diploma in sports management from the University of Florida – which included a final semester internship at NBC Sports Group during the Sochi Olympics.

But instead of parlaying it all into a job somewhere within the sanctioning body or with a race team or even some ISC track, Kennedy is focusing on a dream that precious few are able to realize: Becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.

Thus, the backup plan in case he doesn’t turn out to be the next Jimmie Johnson.

“Having [a degree] in your back pocket in case this racing thing doesn’t work out – I think some people say the odds of being a pro athlete nowadays are less than you winning the lottery, so if this racing thing doesn’t work, you have that degree in your back pocket and work somewhere in the motorsports industry or some other business,” he said recently to MotorSportsTalk.

“I’ll come to that road if I come to it, and if not, I’m gonna keep digging on this racing stuff.”

While time will tell if Kennedy makes it to the Cup Series, it’s clear by his ascension to the Trucks that he is indeed a talented wheelman.

He won multiple championships at Florida short tracks such as New Smyrna Speedway and the Orlando Speedworld, and made the jump to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2011. In 2012, he scored his first NASCAR-sanctioned win in a Whelen Euro Series event in France. Last year, he broke through for his first K&N East triumph at Five Flags Speedway in Florida.

He would go on to add one more win at Winston-Salem en route to a fourth-place finish overall in the standings. But his 2013 campaign was also notable for him getting his first taste of the Trucks by running in five races (Bristol, Iowa, Chicago, Martinsville, and Homestead-Miami).

Three of those races had Kennedy drive for Turner Scott Motorsports and post a strong fourth-place result at Martinsville. The TSM group obviously liked what they saw; Kennedy is now one of their full-time drivers.

“It’s been really cool working for TSM and racing for them for the past five races last year and now [full-time] this year as well,” Kennedy said. “I know we have a great crew together – it’s something that [team owners] Steve Turner and Harry Scott have worked on, and I think they have an awesome team going right now. It’s got a little bit of everything and we’ve got Mike Shelton as our crew chief, who [helped] James Buescher to his 2012 [Truck Series] championship.

“They’re definitely race-winning trucks, and there’s definitely a race-winning crew behind it.”

Heading into the third Truck race of the year tonight at Kansas Speedway, Kennedy’s already had some cool moments. He sat on the pole and led 52 laps at his beloved Daytona in the season-opening race (in which he finished 15th).

Most recently at Martinsville, he earned his best Truck result yet with a third-place finish. Kennedy now sits sixth in the championship, just 10 points behind current co-leaders Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters.

While Kennedy figures his best chances of winning will come on the short tracks with which he’s more familiar, he’s looking forward to mastering the art of racing on the bigger ovals.

“I’m starting to learn [aerodynamics] and how the Trucks go around the corner with other Trucks around them, and how they get aero-tight and aero-loose, all that stuff,” he explained.

“Another big jump for me was the difference of the tires that we run – going from a more flexible, bias-ply tire that’s more forgiving to a radial tire that’s much less forgiving and kind of on edge all the time.”

It’s a lot to take in for any young racer, even one with a pedigree. But put the family ties to the back burner and that’s what you have with Kennedy: An evolving young racer.

It will be a tough process. But while he admits there’s a little bit more pressure on him to succeed, his family’s behind him at every turn.

“They’re really supportive of whatever I want to do, which is really cool,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, when we all get in our race cars and strap in and put the helmets on, there’s always pressure to win on every one of us coming up through this.

“We all want to make it up to the Cup Series, and there’s pressure on us to win, to be a great spokesperson for the sponsors that we work with. And there’s definitely pressure to make it up to the Cup Series one day, which I know is, for most of us, our hopes and dreams.”

And so, with an open mind, humble attitude, and heavy right foot, Kennedy – representing a new generation of one of American sports’ most influential families – charges into the future that neither he nor anyone else can predict.

But somehow, you figure he’s going to leave his mark, whether it’s in the boardroom or behind the wheel.

source: Getty Images

Ben Kennedy and his No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet, earlier in the season at Daytona. Credit: Getty Images.

Latest Posts
  1. Grosjean reveals Lotus escape clause

    Oct 30, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    GrosjeanAUS AP

    Romain Grosjean can opt out of Lotus at year’s end if he so desires.

  2. Button hit with five-place grid penalty for Austin

    Oct 30, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-RUS Getty Images

    British driver forced to change his gearbox for this weekend’s race at COTA.

  3. Johnny Sauter is fastest in both Truck practices at Texas

    Oct 30, 2014, 6:39 PM EDT

    (Sean Gardner/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway) Getty Images

    Johnny Sauter was fastest in both NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practices Thursday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway.

  4. NASCAR America video: Top five drivers to watch in Texas

    Oct 30, 2014, 6:06 PM EDT

    (Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images) Getty Images

    On Thursday’s NASCAR America, Rusty Wallace gave his top five drivers to watch in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Texas. Rusty’s pick for the winner? Jeff Gordon.

  5. Alonso speaks of “ambitious plan” for his racing future

    Oct 30, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Qualifying Getty Images

    Spaniard says that his future is not his first priority, and that all of the events of the past few months have gone as planned.

  6. NASCAR America video: Who has the best chance in Texas?

    Oct 30, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT

    (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

    On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Rick Allen and Rusty Wallace discussed what are Carl Edwards’ and Jeff Gordon’s chances Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

  7. Kaltenborn “beyond the stage of frustration” over F1’s cost crisis

    Oct 30, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-SIN-F1 Getty Images

    Sauber team boss has long warned about the problems blighting Formula 1.

  8. Hamilton excited by F1’s profile and growth in the USA

    Oct 30, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton AP

    British driver speaks about his appearance on NBC’s TODAY Show and his trip to New York City.

  9. Hamilton questions fairness of double points

    Oct 30, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel AP

    Lewis Hamilton politely questions double points.

  10. 2014 United States Grand Prix Preview

    Oct 30, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton AP

    As the end of the 2014 Formula 1 season draws near, the sport ventures to the United States for one of the most popular races of the year in Austin, Texas.

  11. Watch NASCAR America LIVE at 5 pm ET: Texas 3-step, Harvick’s 500th, up-and-coming Quiroga, lots more

    Oct 30, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT

    NASCAR America

    Things are always bigger and better in Texas, and we live up to that with the big show we have planned for Thursday’s NASCAR America.

  12. Miles explains IndyCar’s 2015 schedule changes, clashes

    Oct 30, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    TorontoLeadPts Getty Images

    Date changes, date equity, and broadcast windows play key role in shaping 2015 IndyCar schedule.

  13. What does the future hold for F1 in the United States?

    Oct 30, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    F1 United State Grand Prix Auto Racing AP

    F1 is booming in the United States, but could the arrival of an American team and an American driver send its popularity off the charts?

  14. Road To: Mercedes teaser – The very first Mercedes-Benz car (VIDEO)

    Oct 30, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT

    RTM Logo 101714

    Ahead of the premiere of Road to Mercedes on NBCSN at 10p ET, here is one final teaser for the show that will see NBCSN’s Will Buxton and Jason Swales travel to Germany to visit the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart.

  15. Vergne: Being kept by Toro Rosso win-win for everybody

    Oct 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Russia Getty Images

    Frenchman thinks he would be the best choice for Toro Rosso in 2015 alongside Max Verstappen.

  16. Perez close to new deal with Force India

    Oct 30, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain Getty Images

    Sergio Perez closing on in contract extension with Force India.

  17. In just three years, why have Austin and COTA become favorites for F1?

    Oct 30, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    F1-US Grand Prix AP

    The F1 community loves coming to Austin and COTA, but why?

  18. Crew chief trade for Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch begins this weekend

    Oct 30, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT

    (Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images) (Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

    This weekend’s race at Texas will mark the official debut of Tony Gibson and Daniel Knost as crew chiefs for Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick, respectively. How will they and their drivers fare together?

  19. Successful COTA Forum in Austin proves the importance of fan engagement in F1

    Oct 30, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    F1 Fan Forum - Austin, TX Getty Images

    Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez appear at the event in Austin ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.

  20. Get your calendars ready for conflicts: Here’s the IndyCar/sports car ones in 2015

    Oct 30, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT

    Long-Beach-Lead Getty Images

    Get your calendars out and start marking up which series run where, when.

Video from NASCAR America

Who has the best chance in Texas?
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. J. McMurray (1105)
  2. K. Harvick (1087)
  3. J. Logano (1074)
  4. T. Stewart (1060)
  5. D. Hamlin (879)