Ben Kennedy got into NASCAR the hard way even after being born into the sport.
The son of Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation and Vice Chairperson and a NASCAR board of directors member, this 24-year-old could have taken the easy way, but he didn’t.
Kennedy has fought his way through the rankings of the sport just like every other driver has. However, his route was a little different than most.
While racing in the K&N Pro Series East division, Kennedy also attended the University of Florida, majoring in Sports Management. During his last semester of college, he was able to cover the Olympics for NBC Sports, working over 70-hour weeks.
Two years later, Kennedy was participating full-time in the Camping World Truck Series for Turner-Scott Motorsports.
However, 2016 was a breakout season for the Florida native. He picked up his first career Truck Series victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in August, ensuring his position into the inaugural Truck Series Chase. Though he saw the ultimate triumph of reaching the Winner’s Circle, he also saw some of the lows of the sport, switching teams during the season.
“The first three or four races, we went through a couple of different changes with crew chiefs, teams and numbers, but once we settled down in June with Joey [Cohen] as my crew chief and the rest of the No. 33 team, everything has jelled easily,” Kennedy told Frontstretch. “You get a team that takes half to three-quarters of the year to understand each other and understand how each person works and communicates. It took us only a race or two.”
Kennedy started off the season competing in the first three races with Red Horse Racing. At Kansas Speedway in May, he jumped over to GMS Racing, the team he raced for throughout remainder of the season.
Joining GMS Racing allowed Kennedy to pick the brain of eventual series champion Johnny Sauter as well as teammate Spencer Gallagher. As an organization, he believes they work great together, and at one point at Talladega Superspeedway on the last lap, all four GMS Racing trucks were among the top five, with Grant Enfinger winning the race.
“I’ll be honest — coming into the season, I didn’t really talk to Johnny much or have a relationship with him,” Kennedy said. “Two or three races in, I turned over to one of the guys on my team and said Johnny is probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. He’s so thoughtful and comes over and asks a lot of questions. He’s very engaged and he helps me a lot. ”
In 23 events, Kennedy recorded four top-5 finishes and 10 top 10s, leading 54 laps, finishing seventh in the championship standings. Though he didn’t have the seven-race Chase that he wanted to, he considers 2016 a successful season.
“I think it’s added a tremendous amount of value to the series,” Kennedy said of the Chase. “You always talk and joke about it going into Talladega and Vegas and all of these other places, where if it was a year ago, we wouldn’t really be talking about these races a whole lot. You can be like William Byron and dominate the whole season and have a motor blow in the last couple laps, missing the Championship 4.”
Being a part of the founding family of NASCAR, Kennedy’s family puts no added pressure on him. Racing has been in his blood since the day he was born.
“The cool thing about it is my family is behind me in whatever I want to do, whether I want to drive cars or not,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think there is any pressure at all, but I put pressure on myself. I try to limit myself to the highest standards that I can because I’m very hard on myself.”
Like any other driver, sponsorship is hard to find without strong performances. This season, Kennedy was sponsored by Jacob Companies in 17 events, Wheelwell and Weber Grill made up the other six.
It took NASCAR almost two years to find sponsorship for the premier series, and it’s even harder for teams in lower divisions to find full-time sponsorship.
“Sponsorship is difficult, but we have made a lot of progress in it,” Kennedy said. “I think it’s all about he people you surround yourself with and not only the plan you create, but execute seamlessly. It’s a tough sport, but at the same time there are a lot of cool things going on right now. People have a lot of interest in the sport and makes it easier.”
Being a part of the France family, Kennedy could have taken other career paths, or even a different way of entering the sport. However, he wanted to challenge himself to one day be where he is now.
“Looking back on everything now, there are different things I wish I spent more times doing,” he said. “I think that when I look back 10 from years now, I might have regrets racing 35 weeks in college. I could have had that time focusing more on my studies and life.”
As far as 2017, there is likely going to be a change for Kennedy.
Kaz Grala was announced as the full-time driver of the No. 33 truck in 2017, led by Jerry Baxter for GMS Racing. The organization also announced that Gallagher would be jumping up to the XFINITY Series after making seven starts this season with an average finish of 21st.
“Hopefully, I’ll be in the XFINITY Series,” Kennedy said. “It comes down to partnerships and funding. I also need to be with the right team. There are a lot of conversations going on, but hopefully I’ll have something in a couple months.
Kennedy competed in one XFINITY Series event in 2016 for Richard Childress Racing, finishing 10th at Iowa after being fastest in one of the practice sessions. RCR announced in September that Daniel Hemric would be joining the stable next season, along with current drivers Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan. The will run five XFINITY Series cars next year, with a limbo of drivers splitting the Nos. 2 and 3 cars.