BEN RHODES, No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota Tundra, ThorSport Racing
What is your outlook for tomorrow’s race being close to home here at Kentucky Speedway?
“I’ve raced here twice now and it seems like every single time I race at Kentucky Speedway for the first time they go and repave it. When I ran Legend cars here I ran on it twice and they repaved the whole Legend car track. I really like the surface. The bumps – it’s nice that your eyes don’t fall out of your sockets when you’re driving around the track as Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. said. But, no, it’s really fast. I think the second groove will come in nicely as soon as we get some more rubber laid down. I think that’s going to be the name of the game is getting some rubber laid down because as soon as practice got going it was a little slick. If you got out of the groove it was a little iffy. I scraped the wall just a little bit but I got like an inch of the rear bumper or something like that. We have a great truck. It drafts really well and drafts really fast by itself. We just practiced on scuffing some tires and making some race runs so we weren’t really looking for speed there. We were just getting comfortable with it. And, once that rubber comes in I think it’s going to be a really good track to race on. But, hopefully we just keep the rain away and I’m sure by the end of the race we’ll have so much rubber laid down it will be a great show.”
What would it mean to you to get a win here in your home state?
“I don’t know if words can describe it because as I told some other people I used to drive past this track when I was a little kid on the way to go-kart tracks. I raced in Isom, Kentucky back in the mountains and we drove past this all of the time. I drive past this all of the time to go to Sandusky, Ohio to ThorSport Racing and I always think about this place. I stopped in during the whole repaving process. So, I was very involved in the process. Any time I could stop by I would. I wouldn’t even say hi to some of the people in the office. I would just drive in, look around, take a selfie and then post it up and they’d be like, ‘Why didn’t you say something?’ But, no, I love this place. We have so many people coming out. It’s only an hour down the road from my home so to have so many friends, family, sponsors coming out here – we’re looking for a crowd of about 5,000 people. Just supporters that I know are coming through tickets that we’ve handed out personally, there’s stuff that sponsors are doing and I’m really proud that we’re able to bring such a strong fan base out here because we’re been working hard to get out in the community. We have the TV show in Louisville to get out and meet people and it’s really cool that I can show what I do with others because not many racers can say they do that at their hometown. I’m one of the few that still live in their hometown and I’m able to share it with them.”
Did you ever come to Kentucky Speedway as a spectator when you were growing up?
“I did. I did. They started having the first races here as I was racing the Legend cars and Bandolero’s on the quarter-mile. So, once they came back to Kentucky Speedway – and that was really neat because I took my Legend car out front, we parked it at the main gate and I was forced to learn how to talk to people. They said, ‘Look, if you want to be here one day and you want to be a NASCAR driver that means you have to know how to talk to people.’ So, I stood out there the whole day. I got to meet people. I met Marcos Ambrose, who later on became a team owner of mine in Late Model stock cars and I ran for him. So, I met a lot of really cool people doing that and then I went all the way to the top of the stands, I got my funnel cake and I was like 12 years old and I was watching the races. I came back all three days. It was a lot of fun.”
Did you go to Muhammed Ali’s childhood one for an episode of your TV show?
“That was really special. As young as I was coming up through Louisville I never really got to know who (Muhammed) Ali was other than films and seeing him at public appearances and being out in the community. So, to kind of go to his home and I took a tour of his childhood home and saw where he grew up and heard all of these amazing stories about his boxing career. That was really neat for me because I think he was one of the first real modern sports icons. He was the guy that could get the crowd up, he was able to connect with the fans and at the same time buy interest from everybody to come watch his shows. And, he was a humanitarian outside and then could really put on a show inside. So, I kind of want to like almost emulate him in a way where I can perform off the track and on the track. I can win championships but then off the track I like to be involved in the community. The show is a little bit of how I’m able to do that in Louisville, Kentucky — my hometown. I have so much support from it and we have so many cool stories that it’s neat that I’m able to go and see stuff like that because not everybody gets the opportunity to go to get on the Belle of Louisville and see a private tour and talk to these people that were very influential in Muhammed’s life growing up. It was a very special opportunity.”
Is it intimidating that you have opportunity to make history as first Kentuckian to win?
“It is but you know at the same time I’m looking at it like, you know, I need to focus on the task at hand. If we just focus on making the truck fast and doing the best that we can do I know it will come. We’ve been so close so many times this year and I’m the only Kentuckian in it right now so I just need to stay here for a few more years and if I can’t get it this year we’ll just keep bringing all kinds of people out here to watch in the meantime and sure enough we’ll get it at some point. But, I’m going to try my best and I’ve already talked to my crew chief about it. He’s like, ‘Look, we’ve put all we can into this truck.’ He says, ‘We just need to take care of it in practice because this is the biggest, baddest, truck that we built yet this year and we want to go and win a race with it. And, we’ve been so close so many times it would be a huge sigh of relief for those guys but for me to win in my home state I don’t know what I would do. They’d have to build a bigger victory lane as Mark Simendinger was saying. I think their main priority would be keeping people from rushing the track.”
What would you do to celebrate if you were to win here?
“I don’t know. That’s hard to say. I don’t even know what I’d do at that point. I’d probably be speechless. I want that jukebox though from Crosley Radio’s. They’ve been bringing those jukeboxes out here, so I guess we’d just have to take it back to my place and have everybody over and hook up the jukebox and start partying — I don’t know.”
Is qualifying for the Chase on your mind?
“It is and that’s kind of changed our strategy a little bit in the year. Early on in the year we were just going for wins and it showed. We had a decent run at Daytona – alright it’s Daytona we just gotta get through this – and not only is it Daytona but it’s your first Daytona. So I needed to get through it, I needed to survive it and learn. Then, Atlanta we had a really good run there and a sixth-place finish. Martinsville, qualified on the pole but in the race that’s kind of where the wheels fell off the chain. The race, we got in a wreck. We went to Kansas running for the win and got in a wreck. Dover we had a wreck. Charlotte and Texas we were like, ‘Alright we need to step back and we’ve got to start getting some points.’ Charlotte and Texas we just started trying to finish the races and all of our good trucks at that point where being rebuilt so we’re just like, ‘We’ll take this one truck to both races and just save the truck and get some good finishes.’ And, that’s what we did. And then we go to Iowa and Gateway and man we had that truck saved from Martinsville and it was a really good one. We competed for wins there too. So, now we’re just being cautious. We know that if we get ourselves in trouble it takes so long to fix the equipment. It’s so hard, it’s so much work that goes into these race trucks that if we hurt our equipment we’re not a Sprint Cup team. We have to fix each and every one of them and they’re each specialized for each track. We’re taking care of them, we’re in a rebuilding process and we have some really fast trucks in the meantime. I think we showed that the last two races and this race we’re looking to show it as well.”