Toyota Racing – Ben Rhodes
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS)
Kentucky Speedway – July 6, 2017
ThorSport Racing driver Ben Rhodes was made available to the media at Kentucky Speedway:
Ben Rhodes, No. 27 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota Tundra, ThorSport Racing
What’s it like being back at your home track of Kentucky Speedway?
“We do a lot with Kentucky Speedway. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks for obvious reasons. It’s my home track. I drive past the speedway almost every week on my way up to ThorSport Racing. I’m very familiar with it. I grew up driving past this place whenever I went to go-kart races, so it’s been my dream ever since to race here. We’ve done a lot with Kentucky Speedway on promotions. We’ve done the Northern media luncheon, the southern media luncheon in Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati. We also did a soccer game. We teamed up with them for the Louisville FC soccer this past week. I had a lot of fun with that. We actually were out there with our show truck. Got to do the coin toss and got to meet a lot of the players and actually a couple of the players are coming out here today to kind of support us. So we’ve been doing a lot with them. We’ve had this media tour called ‘All Rhodes lead to Kentucky Speedway’. Get it? The name? All Rhodes? Okay. Anyways, we’ve had a lot of fun with that. I’ve probably done 20 something, 30 interviews leading up to the event here so we’ve been really getting out into the market. I went to a local Kroger market place by my house. We teamed up with the Kroger in the area for promotions as well and we had our show truck as well, just meeting people and giving away tickets. We’re going to have a lot of supporters here. Alpha Energy Solutions is bringing about 3,500 people out and then Safelite is bringing about 500 people out, so a lot of supporters, a lot of friends, a lot of family, a lot of people that haven’t seen me race in a while are going to be here. I went out to the barber shop this morning, which is one of the many perks of racing at home and gave them some tickets. They’re coming out about seven o’clock tonight to watch the race and they’ve never seen it either. A lot of cool people that I’ve grown up with my whole life that get to experience what I do.”
Talk about the struggles of the Truck Series to get a truck on the track and get drivers and sponsorship.
“Well, it’s just tough overall. My whole career, it’s been tough to get sponsorship. It’s not easy to convince somebody to shell out lots of money to fund a race team. I’ve been very fortunate this year. I’ve got Safelite Auto Glass on our truck for all 23 races. There’s been – I’ve been fortunate on my end to have great partners, great people, Toyota’s been a very big help to me this year. To have these relationships, I know it’s tough for many teams and many people and I’ve certainly been in that category as well, so it’s just part of the sport. It’s tough, as high as they cost is, it’s a shame to see Thorsport – sorry, Red Horse Racing close down, because I want to see as many trucks out here as possible. We can’t have enough trucks. If there was 200 trucks, I would be happy. The more trucks and cars that are here, the happier I’m going to be. I want to have all the competition that we can, it means a healthy sport. It’s just tough. I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask about it. I’m sure there’s a lot better people from NASCAR, a lot more people that have been in the sport a lot longer than me. Even though I’m technically classified as a veteran after two years, I still don’t know that much.”
What did you think about the middle to lower grooves of the track and should they run the tire dragon in the higher lanes?
“Yeah, that’s been kind of an ongoing thing at race tracks is running the tire dragon in the bottom groove or putting grip in the bottom groove and it’s – to me I honestly think and from especially what I saw yesterday is the tire dragon, the rubber, the groove is going to be on the bottom especially in Turns 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 because that’s the shortest way around the track here and that’s where it’s going to make the most grip. It’s going to be the fastest. I feel like maybe we should’ve put like a small amount of rubber on the bottom just to help us get going, but a majority of the rubber concentrated in the middle groove and then up a little bit higher. I still think you’re going to see some three-wide racing tonight at times, but it’s going to be hard to sustain that. The guy on the bottom is always going to win. You won’t see huge runs from anybody on the high side, making gains, where if we did the tire dragon maybe in the middle groove and a little bit higher, I think you could see some serious gains. Wherever you’re going to put the rubber is where the cars are going to be the fastest at. But with the tires that Goodyear is bringing here, if they drug it in the middle groove, then our left-side tires would be adding to that rubber cause we’re – as drivers, the lower you get the happier you are, so we’re going to add that rubber ourselves to the bottom. We would’ve done that ourselves no problem with our left-side tires just because that’s the shortest way around the race track. We would work it in at every single lap, but right now we don’t work anything in because we’re already in the groove and you don’t want to move anywhere else. I think if they allowed us to work it in that might have maybe widened the groove out a little bit more – if they focused maybe in the middle. Either way, they’ve done a good job with getting rid of the bumps we had last year. Putting that two inches of asphalt all the way around and the tighter compact asphalt that’s here I think is gonna be a little bit better for getting rubber down as well.”
Has there been an advantage to just focus on the Truck Series full time after your experience in different series in the past?
“There has. There has. There is a big difference between the cars and the trucks as far as handling goes with the body. Aerodynamics are huge here right now. It’s tough when you switch from one series to the next because when you’re full throttle in the Truck Series through 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 dictates the whole lap because that’s the toughest corner obviously, that’s where you’re having to let off the most. It’s tough to go from Truck Series to XFINITY or ARCA and kind of make that transition. I feel like I have a lot better comfort level and understanding of the trucks right now just because we do it every single week.”
How could NASCAR better promote the Truck Series in markets that it’s travelling to in order to get your age group to the track?
“That’s tough. I don’t think there’s one really, one thing that we can do. It’s going to take an effort from every single person that goes to these races. Every single person that races in ANSCAR has a responsibility, I feel, to be an ambassador for the sport and try to bring as many people to the race track and share what they do because it’s fun. That’s what we do this for is for fun, so we should be sharing it with people. One thing that I really enjoy doing is I do school visits. I’ve actually visited two fairly large schools in my area and we gave them tickets for every single kid that wanted to come out and family, we gave them tickets to come out to the race through Alpha Energy Solutions. We’ve got about 300 kids and families that are coming out just from school visits that I did. I feel like maybe doing school visits like that, having in-depth conversations with the kids, as in-depth as you can with a kid. You know showing them video, just getting them amped up and saying this is what our sport’s about because a lot of people I’ve noticed that watch it on tv, it’s totally different on tv than it is actually being there, so getting people out there is important and I think if you can go there and spend one-on-one time with them then it certainly makes a difference. All of my appearances that I’ve done this week, whether it be Kroger or the Louisville FC game, every person that I talk to and they say ‘oh, you’re the driver?’ and I told them about the race, they got amped up and they wanted to go and because I had a ticket to give them and they were already going to come on out anyways after I convinced them, but because I had a ticket then they’re like ‘oh, well I’ll bring Jim Bob and Billy and all these other people with them. It’s definitely just getting out in the market I think and meeting people.”
Talk about staying confident every time you get in the truck and what would it be like to get your first win here?
“Keeping confidence is tough because as the driver, you’re kind of like the team leader. Everybody looks to you, but if you make a mistake or anything, everybody is like right on you and right up in your grille. I’ve been trying to stay positive and confident in front of all of our guys because they feed off of that energy. I think it’s more of a team sport than what people realize and they all look to each other and get energy from one another. I know my guys were really down on themselves after the Kansas race and we actually had to have a big pep talk and say get your head out of the garbage and come back to the race track. We actually have a glove that we started bringing to the race track to tell them to get back into the game because some guys were just getting out of it. You can’t have that. And when that happens, mistakes are made. Confidence is key. The more confident you are on the race track, the more abrupt you are with your maneuvers around people. I think that sets the tone. We’re still trying to set a tone this year and whatever happens, all those things that have happened this year, it’s been out of our control. I find confidence knowing that we’ve done our part, just stuff out of our control, something we can’t even try to influence is happening. So that’s okay, we’ve been staying confident and we’re just going to move forward and I hope we can get a win here at Kentucky. We’ve been close so many times, the mile and a halfs have been our strong point for us. I was just reviewing some data with my team before coming over here and I think we’ve got a really good game plan going forward to the race, pick up some speed and I told everybody at Kentucky Speedway they’re going to have to replace the grandstands if we win. So just get ready to rebuild again for the third year in a row.”
How do you keep your emotions in check without getting too amped up here?
“It’s tough. It is. I feel like any more I’ve gotten really relaxed because these people – my friends and family are out here. They’re going to support me no matter what. I could be completely wrong and they’ll still go to war for me so I’m not worried about impressing them or anything because I know I could say the dumbest thing in the world and they would still have my back. I could do the stupidest thing in the world and they would still have my back. That’s just how they are. It’s kind of like your mom. You don’t do any wrong in her eyes I guess, or your grandma. But anyways, I’m more worried about every week trying to impress the right people that matter so that I can you know, move up the ladder in this sport. The biggest people obviously being Toyota, Safelite, my sponsors, making sure that I keep everybody happy and I give them the best Ben that I can be every single week and that’s been the toughest part growing up through the sport is being sure you impress the right people but not put the pressure on yourself. The people we have coming here, they have my back no matter what, so I’m not worried about them. A lot of these people that are out here I see them on a week to week basis. Like I said, whether it’s my barbers or my friends or people I went to high school with or I get to an event at the Kroger market place in Louisville, Kentucky off Dixie Highway and a lot of people are showing up that I just see around the community which is just neat. They’re going to have my back just because I’m from Louisville.”