May 9, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
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.
Aug 23, 2014, 4:45 AM EDT
One final chance for the drivers and teams to get to grips with Spa ahead of qualifying later today.
Aug 23, 2014, 1:09 AM EDT
Dramatic day for Pro Mazda, USF2000 Friday in Sonoma.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
Ryan Blaney passed Kyle Busch with six laps left in Friday night’s Food City 300 Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and then held on the rest of the way to earn his second career NNS victory.
Aug 22, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Update (8:30 p.m. ET): The engines have been fired and tonight’s Food City 300 is ready to roll.
Aug 22, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
The Bowtie has won the IndyCar manufacturer’s title in all three seasons since returning to North American open-wheel racing in 2012.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:54 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon looked like he had the pole for Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. But Kevin Harvick had other ideas.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
At 7-feet tall, ESPN NASCAR analyst, team co-owner and former NBA star Brad Daugherty is a formidable presence. He’s also known to play a practical joke every now and then.
Aug 22, 2014, 5:39 PM EDT
Unpredictable weather conditions have impacted the Food City 500 in its March spot, which the event has had since the 2005 season.
Aug 22, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule will be officially presented on Tuesday, August 26 at 5 p.m. ET on a special 60-minute edition of NASCAR AMERICA.
Aug 22, 2014, 5:05 PM EDT
“Rowdy” earns the pole for tonight’s Food City 300 with a lap of 125.142 miles per hour in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Aug 22, 2014, 3:52 PM EDT
Former NASCAR Nationwide Series team owner Ed Whitaker passed away Friday at his home in Bristol, Va., business associate Peter Laura told the Bristol Herald Courier.
Aug 22, 2014, 3:04 PM EDT
In statement, Alexander Rossi takes the high road after missing out on Grand Prix debut with Marussia in Spa.
Aug 22, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT
Late in the 50-minute session, the Roush Fenway Racing driver zipped around the half-mile oval at 131.048 mph in the No. 17 Ford Fusion.
Aug 22, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Here’s today’s round-up from the paddock at Spa-Francorchamps.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
In the year of the power unit, Spa is rewarding the Mercedes-powered teams.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT
Russian GP3 debutante Konstantin Tereschenko goes for a wild ride at Spa, but mercifully emerges unscathed.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver turns a lap of 131.083 mph around the high-banked half-mile to lead Friday’s first practice session.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
As good as he may be, is Max Verstappen too young to be racing up against drivers twice his age?
Aug 22, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Son of ex-racer Jos set to become the youngest ever F1 driver next season at the age of 17.
Aug 22, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
At 13th on the Chase Grid with three regular season races left, the former Sprint Cup champion isn’t feeling the need to choose between going for a win or having a good points day.
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