Ben Rhodes: 14-year-old driver

| December 15, 2011
photo courtesy of STIX FX Entertainment

photo courtesy of STIX FX Entertainment

He’s one of the fastest drivers in the state of Kentucky, and he’s still two years shy of obtaining his license.

Ben Rhodes, 14, a student at Holy Cross High School, just signed with Marcos Ambrose Motorsport to drive the No. 9 Late Model race car in the upcoming 2012 season, where he’ll compete in the UARA-Stars Late Model Stock series.

For the last two years, Ben has driven Legends Cars, a style of race car, in the Young Lions division, where he scored 43 victories during the 2011 racing season.
In May, Ben was given the opportunity to test drive a Late Model car at North  Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway, where Jamie Yelton of Fat Head Racing sat in to observe Ben’s driving abilities.

“The body style (of a Legends Car) is like a 1934 Ford Coupe,” Ben explained. “It’s got about 130 horse power, but the Late Models are full size cars. They’re about 400 or so horsepower. You’ve got the whole right side to worry about, and just a whole lot of changes.”

In spite of the differences in the two  cars, Ben was still able to impress Yelton during his first test drive in the Late Model. Yelton then turned to Ambrose, a famed NASCAR driver, who sat in on Ben’s second test drive and later had his business manager call Ben’s father, Joe, to offer Ben the chance to sign on with Ambrose’s development program.

Ben with his father Joe.  photo courtesy of STIX FX Entertainment

Ben with his father Joe. Photo courtesy of STIX FX Entertainment

“It’s interesting that Marcos Ambrose is working with Ben because that usually doesn’t happen, especially now,” said Jason “Stix” Buckley, founder of LegendsNation.com, a website featuring news and information on Legends Car and Bandolero racing.

“There’s a lot of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers that have development programs but a lot of times you have to pay an exorbitant amount of money; you’re bringing everything to the table. Marcos personally said, ‘I want to go to (Ben’s) next test.’”

Along with Ben’s success as a driver, he has gained an enormous amount of attention both nationally and internationally — he has fans in Australia, where Ambrose is originally from.

Yet, Ben still keeps focused on his studies at Holy Cross and continues to achieve good grades, despite missing quite a few days of school while traveling to competitions in locations as far as New York and Florida.

“I think so far, I’ve missed about 14 or 15 days,” Ben said. “Last year, I missed around 30. I’ll be doing schoolwork while I’m traveling to race tracks or at nighttime when I get back from a race so I can stay all caught up and keep the best grades I can.”

Ben also stays busy as a member of his school’s cross country team and lifts weights every other day in order to build muscular endurance, which helps him behind the wheel.

“The (Late Model) car weighs about 3200 pounds,” Ben explained of the need to stay in good shape. “When you’re going at such high speeds, you’re tensed up. You’re going so fast that the inertia is pushing you. You’re fighting against that force with your neck muscles the whole time, so it’s pretty hard to hold your neck up.”

Another force Ben has to combat while racing is the intense heat that builds up inside of his car.

Jamie Yelton of Fat Head Racing on the left, Lee McCall in the middle (crew chief, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief as well), and Ben. photo courtesy of STIX FX Entertainment

Jamie Yelton of Fat Head Racing on the left, Lee McCall in the middle (crew chief, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief as well), and Ben.photo courtesy of STIX FX Entertainment

“He lost five pounds during one race and that was just at nighttime,” said Ben’s mother, Lori. “As a mother, I worry about that. They’re strapped in a helmet and suit inside a vehicle that’s probably 130 plus degrees with that engine running. That’s very demanding on a body.”

Ben’s mom experiences the typical motherly concerns that come with having a young driver in the family — especially a young race car driver.
But it was Lori who helped Ben back onto the track after he experienced one of his worst wrecks that likely would have sent any other driver searching for a quick exit from the sport.

“He wasn’t good at it when he first started,” Lori said of Ben, who began racing go-karts at age seven. “One night, his kart got torn up. He was in a bad wreck and the body was hanging off and he was like, ‘I want to get back out there.’ He was so mad. My dad and I got the car and put it all back together. Ben started at 15th and he just started working his way up, and I think he finished in the Top 5 that night. I think he wanted to catch the boy that wrecked him but once he caught him he just kept on going. And from that point on, it was nothing but in the front for him.”

Since then, Ben has enjoyed a slew of victories against his fellow drivers, several of whom are anywhere from 40 to 70 years old.

“I’m used to being the youngest,” Ben said. “I just look at them as another driver. I know they’ve got a lot more experience than me, but I just really worry about myself and what I’ve got to do.”

It’s this philosophy that has helped him excel to the top of his sport, as well as his excellent ability to communicate with his pit crew, a skill Buckley said is not typical of drivers his age.

But for Ben, when asked what has separated him from the competition, he humbly credits his hard work and passion for racing.

“You’ve got to put in more work than anybody else if you want to succeed,” Ben said. “You’ve got to look at what they’re doing and you’ve got to say you’re going to do it better. I’m just trying to win Rookie of the Race every time and the long term goal is to drive in the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But, I’d be happy with any professional driving career. I just want to race.”

For more information on Ben, visit www.benrhodesmotorsports.com.

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Ashley Anderson

Ashley spends half her time writing stories at The Voice-Tribune office and half her time out on the town conducting interviews, while occasionally dressing in wild outfits to fully immerse herself in the experience (aka Princess Leia at Comic Con). Ashley is a huge UofL fan and loves the Yankees and the Boston Celtics (she is fully aware of the irony). She hopes to one day outshine Erin Andrews on ESPN and enjoys running, Bardstown Road/Fourth Street, Breaking Bad and reality TV (she’s not ashamed to admit that).

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