Ben Rhodes is a shining star rising quickly through the ranks of stock car racing. He is working his way up the ladder, but he’s doing it at a very rapid pace. He burst onto the national scene with two strong runs in Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Shootout. He has worked for Marcos Ambrose and with well known NASCAR crew chief Lee McCall on his way to the K&N Series. He is making his Truck Series debut this weekend in a strong Turner Scott Truck and is looking to make another big splash on a national stage. During the rain at Martinsville he sat down with our own Mike Neff to discuss how his deal came together, what it was like running in the Shootout, building a muddin’ Jeep and where he hopes to go.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch.com: You’re making your Truck Series debut for Turner Scott Motorsports. How did this deal come together?
Ben Rhodes: We’ve been working on it for a while. We’ve done really well in the K&N Series this year so far. Mark McFarland, my crew chief, has had me a really fast Alpha Energy Solutions car all year. We have three poles now in the K&N Series and have just had some success that has led into it. We have Mike Hillman Jr. as my crew chief this weekend, as well as the rest of the races. We have Brittany Edwards, the lovely and talented PR girl for the No. 32 Truck that I am driving. We have five Truck races at Martinsville twice, Phoenix, Bristol and Dover. It is going to be a good year.
Neff: Having McFarland around is certainly a good thing. I believe he has had a little bit of success around this place.
Rhodes: He stopped by yesterday but, unfortunately, I don’t think he’s going to be back today. His son had a 104 degree temperature so he had to go home to be with him. I hope everything is good there. He did give me some advice and secrets to get around this place. Some good speed secrets.
Neff: Who is sponsoring your Truck this weekend?
Rhodes: Alpha Energy Solutions this weekend is on the truck this weekend, along with the Kentucky National Guard and Park Community Credit Union.
Neff: For those fans who don’t know where you have come from, I know you ran Legends during the Summer Shootout at Charlotte, give them the 10,000 word overview of your short career.
Rhodes: Even before Legends, I started in go-karts around age six or seven. Then I moved into Bandoleros and Legends and we had a lot of success in those. We were then contacted by a Late Model team. We ran with them for a year or so and made some more connections and then went with Lee McCall, who was my crew chief that first year. We ran with him, he started up his own team, and we ran with him for a year. We also ran part time in the K&N Series that year with Turner Scott Motorsports. Now we’re running full-time with Turner Scott this year in the K&N Series along with the five Truck starts. There is a lot of momentum that has been built up there through a lot of steps and a lot of learning experiences.
Neff: How did you make the connection with Turner Scott? Did they come to you? Were you doing the Carl Edwards dropping off business cards deal?
Rhodes: It was a little bit of everything. You have to meet the right people along the way. You have to have the right people pulling for you from all sides in order for it to succeed. It doesn’t matter who it is, you have to have everyone and it has to be a team effort for you to succeed.
Neff: I’m the first one to admit that I thought your “team” was bringing you up too quickly in this deal. Then, the first time you were in the Short Track Shootout at Richmond you finished in sixth place. You followed that up with a third place finish the next year. That pretty much turned me around in my opinion. What was it like the first time you ran in that event and found yourself up near the front with Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart?
Rhodes: That was really cool. Marcos Ambrose was my team owner during that first race. He came on the radio during a late caution and said “Hey man, that was Kyle Busch you just passed there. You’re doing something now.” I thought that was cool. I was bummed out at the end though. We had a faster car than where we finished. We restarted fourth and Jeff Burton was in front of me and he missed a shift. We tried to avoid him but knocked the left front fender in. I couldn’t get any air on the front fender anymore. I learned that lesson at Richmond in that race. It told me how important your fenders are so I try and take care of them every race now.
Neff: Enough of this racing stuff, what do you do outside of racing? Are you still in school or have you graduated?
Rhodes: I’m still in high school. I am a junior at Holy Cross High School in Louisville, Kentucky. I take a couple of online classes to help alleviate scheduling problems. I’ve kept a 4.0 GPA in school so far. I’m not as smart as Brittany. She scored a 32 on her ACT when she was in school. I’m not that smart. I have to put in the hard work just to be where I am. I’ve scored a 26 so far. My mom and dad want me to get a 30, but with the racing schedule it is hard to find the time to make that happen.
Neff: What else do you do around Louisville?
Rhodes: My brother and I are working on a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee. We’ve finish it up for the most part. We have to replace the steering box and the power steering reservoir, but other than that it is pretty much done. We put an eight inch lift on it and 35 inch tires. We are ready to have some fun, we are going muddin’.
Neff: Are you going to Southern Indiana? Isn’t there a mud bog place near New Albany, Indiana?
Rhodes: There are a lot of places around. We used to go to a place called the Dirty Turtle near Bedford, Kentucky, but it closed down so we have to find a new place to go.
Neff: Are you a Kentucky Derby fan? Have you ever been to it?
Rhodes: No, my parents own a lot close to Churchill Downs. It is a few blocks down the road from the track. We charge $20-$40 a pop and can park 40-50 cars. It is good money to stand out there for three or four hours. We make a butt-load of money for doing pretty much nothing.
Neff: Where are you planning on going to college? Are you planning on going or are you going to go racing first?
Rhodes: Right now, I’ve been looking at schools and have received some letters for having good grades. I’m not really sure. I think, right now, we’re going to stick with the racing deal and see where we can get with that. I have the good grades and hopefully I can get my ACT score up a little bit, although it isn’t bad where it is. Education can always be there to fall back on, especially with the good grades I have. I can always go to college. It isn’t like you have to be in a certain age group to go to college.
Neff: What is your favorite race track?
Rhodes: Richmond is one of them. Just because I have had so much success there and it is where I had my first big race with a bunch of the big names. I have a lot of cool memories of that place. Dover is fun and Bristol is a good one. I want to do a road course. I haven’t done one of those yet but I will this year at VIR and Watkins Glen, so we’ll see how that goes.
Neff: You just had your first K&N Series race win at Greenville-Pickens. Tell us what that was like.
Rhodes: Greenville-Pickens was an interesting race. They gave us a new set of tires at the 75 lap break and we really needed those. It worked out well. We were able to plan it out perfectly. I held onto first place after starting on the pole. I led the first half until the break. My teammates wanted to get up there so I let them lead a little bit. I pulled over and let them go do their thing. About 30 laps to go we got passed Kaz Grala for second place, who was running really well in his third or fourth K&N race. He’s doing really well. We then got by Cameron Hayley for the lead and were then able to hold on for the win. Everybody from Turner Scott Motorsports was really fast that weekend and it was a really good showing for the team.
Neff: Tell us about Bristol. I don’t know how many people saw it on television. You led all of the laps except for the most important one.
Rhodes: That was a hard pill to swallow but that is part of racing. You won’t forget it though. The people who do it to you have to know that if they are going to race someone like that then that is the way you’re going to be race. The hardest thing to think about was the guy who got passed me wasn’t really trying to race me. If he didn’t hit me he was hitting the wall. I guess he figured eight tires was better than four. I’ll remember it. What goes around comes around.
Neff: Assuming these five races go well is there any talk around Turner Scott about the idea of running the full season of Trucks in 2015?
Rhodes: I would like to. We just have to get all of the sponsors in a row. We have to get everything pulled together for next year. It takes everybody and a lot of planning and preparation. Sponsors are big so we are working on that right now and hopefully we can get somebody big on board, unveil them and be in Trucks full-time next year.
Rhodes is leading the K&N East points by seven over Daniel Suarez after four races with a win and three top 5 finishes. Suarez won the first two races of the season but Rhodes has been very strong over the last two to wrest the point lead away. The series heads to Richmond in a month for a companion event with the national touring series. There are 12 races left on the schedule to see if Rhodes can land the coveted trophy.
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What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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