March 22, 2014 — Audio and story by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — Photo courtesy Ben Rhodes Racing — GREENVILLE, SC and LOUISVILLE, KY — It may not have been where he got his first-ever late model victory, but Greenville-Pickens Speedway is where Ben Rhodes got his most important late model victories.
Why, you ask? Rhodes got out the broom, swept both events on the night, and said to his competition, ‘I’m the real deal’.
“Those races at Greenville were huge for my confidence,” Rhodes recalls. “We had two great races that day. The car was completely dialed in. Once I got out to a little bit of a lead I worked on being easy on the tires so I had enough grip to work with at the end of the race. It was an awesome day to start from the pole in race one and lead all 80 laps (40 in each event).”
Last August, Rhodes was competing in a Late Model Stock car for Hawk-McCall Motorsports. This time around, he brings the ride full-circle, starting Saturday night at Greenville-Pickens in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (KNPSE) Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 for Turner Scott Motorsports.
Rhodes has gotten off to a fast start in the KNPSE in 2014, sitting on the pole for the last two series races at Daytona International Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. However, those starts have not materialized into the wins Rhodes had hoped for. He finished 15th at Daytona after sustaining crash damage during the event, and a heartbreaking third at Bristol after being bumped on a green-white-checkered restart after leading 130 of the race’s 132 laps by eventual winner Eddie MacDonald.
“Bristol was a tough pill to swallow,” Rhodes admitted in a recent interview with Race Chaser Online. “I feel like we got used up a little too hard there at the end, and that left us with a lot of unnecessary damage to the car we had to repair, but it is what it is. I’m hoping we can go to Greenville this Saturday and be just as competitive as we were in the late model.”
If that turns out to be the case, the rest of the competition had best beware. Those two GPS triumphs came in the midst of a summer hot streak last season that ultimately led to Rhodes having six wins total on the year. Not to mention, he finished sixth in his KNPSE start at Greenville in September of last year.
Don’t think he likes Greenville-Pickens, do you?
“I love the character that Greenville has,” Rhodes laughed. “Yeah, it’s a tire-eater, and that’s a really tough thing to manage if you’re not careful, but I feel like my late model starts last year have taught me how to best manage my tires in the K&N car because they work really similar. I’m excited to get back there, especially because of the momentum we have going there in particular.”
The former go-kart racer, Bandolero champion and Legend car standout has proved his mastery of the larger stock cars is no fluke. While he hasn’t scored a K&N East victory yet, he has a total of 4 top five and 7 top ten finishes in just 10 starts in his KNPSE career to date and added to that the 6 wins, 14 top five and 17 top ten finishes across 23 starts in the late model ranks in 2013.
Quite the record for a 16-year-old who maintains a rigorous training schedule and spends his free time riding ATVs and video gaming in addition to keeping up his junior year class schedule at Holy Cross High School, where he currently holds a 4.0 GPA.
Rhodes also netted the 2013 K&N Pro Series East Most Popular Driver Award, despite only running seven of the 14 series points events in 2014.
But Greenville is where the momentum took off for the Bluegrass State native in 2013. Now, in 2014, he’s hoping the momentum will take off once again, with a K&N Pro Series victory on Saturday night.
He stresses the strategy will be different than it was last fall, with NASCAR allowing the teams four fresh tires to bolt on the cars at the Lap 75 halftime break on Saturday night. But the goal, and the process to get there, is the same.
“The winner of Saturday night’s race is still going to be the driver who saves their tires and their equipment the best,” Rhodes insists. “You just might see guys burn their stuff up too soon because they’re thinking ‘oh, we’ve got more tires in the pits’. I think it might actually play into our hands just a little bit better, because I’m used to the little bit shorter stints, even though saving your tires for 75 laps at Greenville is an excruciatingly long time.”
If he wins the race Saturday night? Expect Rhodes to light the entire track with his trademark smile in Victory Lane. And maybe draw out a circle too.
“It’s like I’ve said all along. This is where the run really took off. I’m hoping we can bring it full-circle under the lights and sit in Victory Lane again in South Carolina.”
The Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 takes the green flag Saturday night at 8 PM Eastern time at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, with live updates online courtesy of NASCAR Home Tracks.
Listen in to our complete interview with Ben Rhodes, as we talk Greenville, his 2014 season to date, and his outlook on contending for both Rookie of the Year honors and the season championship: