LOUISVILLE, Ky. (August 11th, 2013) – Throughout the entire 2013 racing season, NASCAR Next driver Ben Rhodes has been a factor in the closing laps of the races he has entered, but hasn’t been able to close the deal with a victory as bad luck would strike, leaving the 16-year-old Louisville, Kentucky, native winless in his Late Model Stock career. That changed this weekend as Rhodes not only drove his No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions ride with Hawk-McCall Motorsports to the win on the concrete track of Kingsport Speedway (TN) on Friday, August 9th, but backed that up Saturday, August 10th, taking the checkered flag first at the historic Hickory Motor Speedway (NC), earning his first-two career NASCAR Whelen All-American Series victories in one weekend.
“What an amazing weekend,” said Rhodes. “This was a long time coming.”
Rhodes and his team headed to Kingsport Speedway on Friday looking for redemption. In June, they set fast time in qualifying, and after starting fourth due to a standard track invert, a competitor drove into the side of Rhodes’ car early in the race, cutting down his tire and relegating him to a 13th-place finish.
“We had such a fast car there last time, but we didn’t get to show it during the race because we were run into,” said Rhodes. “That was frustrating and typical of our luck this year. But we did not let it get us down. Instead we used that as motivation to go back and show what we can do.”
Lady luck wasn’t quite ready to shine on Rhodes though early on Friday. When he hit the track for qualifying, his track-owned transponder didn’t register his lap time on the warm-up lap. He was forced to come back down pit road to swap it out and re-qualify, putting him at a disadvantage to the field. Still, he went out and turned the fastest time of all drivers during the qualifying session, but the time wouldn’t stick as his fast lap was the first of three laps, considered a “dead lap” by the track. His best lap of record was second fast, 0.001 seconds behind the fast qualifier.
“Those things happen, but it was just crazy that it only happened to me of all the drivers here,” explained Rhodes. “I was mad, but I was able to stay focused in the car and turn a good lap.”
Starting from the third position in the 60-lap race due to the invert, Rhodes raced his way to second by the 13th lap. After a lap 22 restart from a caution, he battled hard for the top spot, taking the point by lap 30. Despite a few caution flags bunching up the field, Rhodes was able to drive away from the field, and at the checkered flag had about a half-straightaway lead over second, earning his first-career NASCAR Whelen All-American Series victory.
“Lee McCall (crew chief) had the car really hooked up on the concrete. It turned really well in the corners which allowed me to get the car set and power out and down the straight-aways. We were able to get away from the rest of the cars, but the cautions kept coming out there. I thought during the cautions we might get run into again like the last time we were here and it take the victory from us, but I put that out of my mind and focused on doing what I had to do.
“Before I got out of the car in victory lane I really wasn’t sure we won the race. I knew we won, but I have been in the position to win so many times this year and it didn’t happen. I think it still hasn’t hit me.”
Before the race, Rhodes also claimed the final “Dash for Cash” challenge, earning an additional $300, $200 of which were in gold coins.
For a video of the run to the checkered flag as well as post-race reaction from Rhodes and McCall, click the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skFn3znM-Fg
Rhodes and the Hawk-McCall Motorsports team didn’t have much time to celebrate as they drove overnight to Hickory, North Carolina, to race in the 100-lap Zloop Late Model Stock race at Hickory Motor Speedway Saturday. Unfortunately lady luck was slow to make the trip herself as more bad luck threatened his race day.
“We made one run in the first practice Saturday afternoon at Hickory, but heavy rain moved in,” explained Rhodes. “Because it took a while to get the track dry and it was getting late with more rain on the way, the track decided to cancel qualifying and start the race by track points. Because we haven’t raced at Hickory yet this year in a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series event, we didn’t have points and had to start near the back. It put us in a hole even before getting the green flag, but that is one reason why we tested at Hickory on Thursday before going to Kingsport so we could have a baseline set-up in case anything like this would happen.”
Starting 16th of the 17 cars on track, Rhodes took the green flag and was patiently aggressive trying to work his way through the field. By the 10th lap he cracked the top 10, and just before lap 30, he was fourth, but more adversity occurred during a caution period at lap 31 as smoke poured from his car. NASCAR officials sent him to the pits to get it checked out.
“Something with the power steering system came loose or broke, and fluid was coming out of the car. I sat in my car while they were working on it just beside myself wondering if our bad luck was back. But my team worked hard and fast, and got it fixed just in time. We were able to get back on the track and catch up to the back of the field right when the green flag was coming back out.”
With caution laps not counting, Rhodes was still on the lead lap, but once again found himself at the back of the pack, having to race his way through heavy side-by-side action. By the halfway mark of the race, he was back up to fourth, and with just 40 laps to go he was second, chasing down the leader. At lap 76, after battling side by side, Rhodes was able to take the lead of the race. And, similar to Friday night’s race, Rhodes had to survive a few caution restarts, but once again had about a half-straightaway lead at the checkered flag, winning his second race in two days.
“It wasn’t easy going through the field twice like that,” said Rhodes. “The car was great, but there were a lot of battles on the track I got stuck behind and drivers changing lanes to protect their position. The last few restarts were tough too because our car was set up for a long run. Once I got going though the car did what I needed it to and I was able to drive away from second.”
For a video with post-race reaction from Rhodes and McCall, click the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PwJsPw2J1U
Both of his wins were special for many reasons, especially since they occurred in two-consecutive days at two different tracks and in two different chassis as he raced chassis nicknamed “Princess” at Kingsport and “Smoke” at Hickory. But for Rhodes, getting his crew chief, his race team, and his sponsors two victories meant a lot more than anything.
“Lee and all the guys on the Hawk-McCall Motorsports team have worked their butts off the entire year and we have been so close to winning a lot of races, but we didn’t have anything to show for it at the end of the day. I am happy to finally get my first-two wins in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, but even happier I got Lee and all of them two wins. They deserve it.
“I want to thank all of my sponsors, including Alpha Energy Solutions, Kentucky National Guard, Park Community Federal Credit Union, Alliance Comfort Systems, and Refrigerant Rescue. Without them and everyone else that has helped me, I wouldn’t have been able to get these wins. Also, I want to thank NASCAR, NASCAR Home Tracks, and the NASCAR Next program for their dedication to the sport for making all of this possible as well as Kingsport Speedway and Hickory Motor Speedway. Lastly, I have to thank all of the fans that show up to the track or show me support online. I am sharing these victories with all of them.”
Rhodes has had many influential top-level NASCAR drivers help him out over the past few years, including NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Marcos Ambrose. One driver in particular he is dedicating his second win to that is currently sidelined from the Sprint Cup Series due to an injury sustained in a sprint car wreck last weekend.
“I am dedicating my second win to Tony Stewart,” said Rhodes. “Lee and his wife Michele are great friends with Tony, and he was my teammate at the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Richmond earlier this year. Tony is a great guy and a great teammate, and he gave me some advice in that race that helped me get a top-three finish.
“At Hickory I drove our chassis nicknamed “Smoke” that Tony drove to the Showdown win in 2012. We all send our thoughts and prayers to Tony on a speedy recovery so he can get back to racing, and we hope our win tonight in “Smoke” brought a smile to his face.”
Rhodes will spend Monday and Tuesday, August 12th and 13th, testing at Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC) with Hawk-McCall Motorsports in his NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model and with Turner Scott Motorsports in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East ride. He will then head back to his home state to start his junior year at Holy Cross High School before coming back down to race twin Late Model Stock features at Greenville on Saturday, August 17th. His next KNPSE event will also be at Greenville on Monday, September 2nd.
For more information on Ben Rhodes, including media availability, contact Jason “Stix” Buckley of STIX FX Entertainment at (704) 519-5528 or email@example.com, and make sure to keep up to date on his racing career at www.benrhodesinc.com, like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/benrhodesinc, and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/benrhodesinc as well as Instagram at www.instagram.com/benrhodesinc.
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Photo Credits: Race22.com and STIX FX Entertainment