In this weeks feature story, we catch up with NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Ben Rhodes. Rhodes, a Louisville, Kentucky native, drives the No. 41 ThorSport Racing Ford and has been competing in the Truck Series full time since 2016 with one part-time season in 2014, competing in only four races that year.
We talk everything racing from how he got his breakthrough in the sport, to the NASCAR Next class, how he and Carl Edwards became friends, and what Rhodes thinks of his season so far.
Before moving through the ranks of being a racecar driver, Rhodes started at a young age just like most other drivers.
“I actually started racing when I was seven years old at Sportsdorm Speedway right across the river from my hometown in Louisville, Kentucky,” Rhodes said. “It all started at home. I was on four-wheelers, dirt bikes, go-karts, all at a very young age, at about three-years-old. Whenever my brother and I started racing the go-karts around the house, down the driveway trying to spin the go-karts around as many time as possible, still keep going in a straight direction, I think my mom figured out real quickly we were a little bored.”
“She talked to my dad and we went out to a local racetrack,” he said. “I’ll tell you the first time didn’t go so well, but after sticking with it and I’m glad I did, I think I found a passion and something I loved ever since.”
From there on, the Kentucky native progressed through the ranks of NASCAR competing in the K&N Pro East Series, which is a developmental series for all young NASCAR stars. He ran there for two years earning five wins, 13 top fives and 18 top 10 finishes, along with six poles. Rhodes describes how he got that breakthrough in the sport.
“It was interesting for me to kind of move up to that level,” Rhodes said. “The cars were heavier, they still had a very similar setup to the late model stocks that I drove. But they were heavier, more horsepower and they drove like a true stock car. So it was a little different and it was a little bit of a learning curve in 2013. I did part time in 2013 and I felt ready.”
“I felt ready and I felt that 2014 was our time to shine. Boy, it was a really good season. I mean it was interesting again to see that we had pit stops. They weren’t live pit stops, but there were just so many different things we had to work with that season that I’ve never worked on before. It was such a huge stepping stone and confidence builder for my entire career.”
Rhodes also talks about how different the pit stops were as it was his first time doing them.
“It wasn’t too hard,” the No. 41 ThorSport driver said. “They weren’t live, but it was still interesting that, hey you’re racing, going hard as you can and then you have to slow down and come down to a complete stop for four or five minutes. I think that was actually harder to adjust to than the current pit stops that we’re doing in NASCAR, the live pit stops. Just for the fact that you had to come to a complete stop, you had to wait for so many minutes with the guys working on the car and everything. It was just kind of weird to experience that.”
From there, Rhodes competed in four Truck Series races in 2014 driving for Steve Turner but ultimately went to the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2015 driving for JR Motorsports, for 10 races. It wasn’t until after that season when he got the call from ThorSport to drive for them full time.
“ThorSport Racing actually contacted me after my season with JR Motorsports,” Rhodes said. “I’m really glad that they did. It’s been a really awesome experience ever since. Duke Thorson is such an incredible guy. Duke and Rhonda Thorson, they own the team, but their leadership stands from the top and works their way down through the company. Awesome culture.”
“Just their love for the sport,” he said. “They don’t do it for the money. They put a lot of money into it and they do it just because they love it. They love it just as much as anybody in the shop, if not more. It’s pretty cool to see that. I’ve enjoyed every moment there. Sure, we had our ups and downs, but 2018 I’m looking to really go after this championship. I know that we have the championship caliber team and the equipment to do it.”
Rhodes first NASCAR stock car race was at Bristol competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. He started 21st and finished ninth that day. Rhodes talks about how hectic that day was.
“It was interesting,” Rhodes said. “We led so many laps that we led the entire advertised distance. And then on the last restart, a driver that kind of started the rivalry, drove me going down into Turns 1 and 2 on the restart, took us three wide and basically doored us up the track, and almost hit the wall. Unfortunately, we lost the race because of that, but we dominated the whole time.”
“If you’re going to be at Bristol, leading is the best place to be,” he said. “You don’t want to be in the back where all the carnage is. We had a really clean racecar up until that point. I was pretty mad afterward.”
He also doesn’t really have a race he wishes that he could do over again. But just small mistakes that Rhodes wishes he could correct if given a second chance.
“That’s hard to say,” the Kentucky native said. “Any race I wish I had a chance to redo. You never have a perfect race. Even our win at in Las Vegas, it wasn’t the perfect race. It worked out, but it wasn’t the perfect race. Every single race, there’s something I want to do over.”
“I wouldn’t say it would be Bristol,” he said. “I would want to redo a race that I made a mistake on my own. It would be a race, where I could have easily fixed something and had a lot better finish. Maybe not even winning, but a lot better finish did not wreck the piece of equipment. Just really trying to make things better, not so much get myself the win. There’s plenty of those races where I could have fixed as well.”
The 2018 NASCAR Next Class was recently announced with drivers Anthony Alfredo, Chase Purdy, Riley Herbst, Hailie Deegan, Derek Kraus, Will Rodgers, Zane Smith, Tanner Thorson, and Ryan Vargas. Rhodes was apart of the NASCAR Next class early on in his career and he explains how special it was to be a part of that, and who he thinks might shine from this class.
“It’s hard to say,” Rhodes said. “They’re all really good drivers. They’re all kinds of superstars from their own domain. I think they’re all shining bright. That’s obviously why they were chosen in the NASCAR Next group.”
“For me, I just have good memories spending time and racing my competitors, and learning about one another and just seeing a different side of NASCAR that I hadn’t seen before. I am actually really grateful that I had the NASCAR Next program and that I was a part of the group. It’s pretty neat to see where that started and where those drivers are from the first class, and where those drivers are in all the other classes after that. Just seeing how spot on they’ve been and scouting out talent.”
Rhodes sponsor, Alpha Energy Solutions, has been with him ever since he started racing in the K&N series. They are based out of his hometown in Louisville, Kentucky and he explains what they’re mission is.
“Alpha Energy Solutions is a mechanical service contractor,” Rhodes said. “It sounds like your local power company right? But it’s not, it’s a service contractor. Essentially, your electricity, heating and air, anything that keeps you nice and comfortable in your house. That’s what they work on. They don’t work on it for houses, but big commercial buildings. So, big offices, exhibitions centers, stadiums, just big buildings. They’re based out of my hometown, so that’s been a cool experience.”
There’s at least one track that he wishes that was on the Truck Series schedule and Rhodes thinks it would be interesting to see it happen.
“I would like to see Watkins-Glen,” he said. “That’s one of my favorite tracks. I loved it ever since I was a little kid. I remember playing on the NASCAR games and that’s the only track I ever wanted to race. I’ve had decent runs there, but I felt like I can do a lot better than what my results were when I ran there in the Xfinity Series and the K&N East.”
“So I would love to take trucks there,” Rhodes said. “I think you would be wide open through esses. It would be a super fast track for us. There would be a lot of drafting and I think it would be a unique race. Something that Watkins-Glen really hasn’t seen before.”
There’s one thing that fans might not know about Rhodes, but they could possibly know about it already due to his social media channels.
“That’s a tough one,” he said. “What do they not know about me? Gosh. I don’t know, I’ve got my pilot license. Going for a little flight Thursday and some fans know it. They keep up with me on my social media. Others may not, but I enjoy flying and using that license being able to commute to different sponsors. Just kind of using that to my advantage with the busy travel schedule.”
The Louisville, Kentucky native jokes around about the last famous person he has in his contacts and brings up a surprising fact and connection, that he made through his pilot’s license.
“Celine Dion,” Rhodes jokingly says. “I’m just joking. I don’t have Celine Dion on my phone. Honestly, it’s probably NASCAR drivers. NASCAR drivers, we’re all kind of in a group or community, I guess you could say. Everyone knows each other. Probably the last one that I added was Carl Edwards before he announced his retirement from the sport.”
“I haven’t really been able to keep up with Carl,” he said, “ever since he stepped away. “I wish I did. I probably should send him a text message to see what’s going on, especially when we made our Midwest swing because he’s a pretty good pilot. It would have been really neat to go up into a plane with him and learn a few things.”
“But no, I haven’t texted him,” Rhodes said. “I need too. I think that would be kind of cool.”
“It was actually Ford Championship weekend,” the Kentucky native said, “2016 Ford Championship weekend right before his last race of his career, at least for now. It was the night before his race, we actually had met. We were staying in the same place, the same little area, the community if you want to call it. We met at an ice cream parlor. He was there with his kids and I was there with my family, and we just kind of chatted a little bit.”
So far in the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, Rhodes has three top fives and five top 10 finishes, along with one pole. He assessed his season so far and thinks they can be a little better than they are currently.
“It’s okay,” Rhodes said. “It’s not where we want to be. It’s not where we should be. Just okay. I do feel like our season is going to become a lot better. Leaving Daytona, we were seventh in the points including a 10 point penalty. Going into Kansas we were second in points without even a win yet. We had so many top fives, so many top 10s and it was just really cool to see that momentum that we’re building.”
“Two engine issues this year and a mechanical failure at Dover,” he said, “you know, we’re still not doing that bad. We’re fourth in points right now and I would like to see us further up. We should be further up. I do believe that we could have three wins right now and it’s just not me saying this, but my team, crew members, mechanics, are legitimately mad that we should have a couple of wins by now. They’re really mad about it with just the issues we’ve had.”
“We need to get the issues, get rid of the mistakes, any issues on pit road, any issues with part failures, engine failures. We need all of that to go away. Once that’s gone, once we fix all of those things, I think we’re going to be right on track going after a championship and get multiple wins this year.”
Rhodes has a Facebook live show that is called BR841 and it airs every other Wednesday. He explains how that came about.
“I’m enjoying it so far,” Rhodes said. “We used to actually have this show called Live at Five. I would do it Monday’s at five. Just kind of Facebook living with the fans, just interacting. I turned it into more of a show this year called BR841, every other Wednesday night at 8:41. Kind of playing off my 41 number. Essentially, I have fans come on as guests and they join the show via video, and then we have other guests on like my teammate Myatt Snider, spotters, people from various racetracks, done big giveaways.”
“So it’s just something, a cool way interact with fans,” he said. “It’s different. Kind of experimenting with different and new show rundown layout. We might change it up in the future, but we’re kind of having fun with it.”