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Ben Kennedy Working Way Up Through Ranks

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 12 2011

Lesa France Kennedy's son, Ben Kennedy, is mixing racing with an books. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Wrtier
RacinToday.com

Jefferson, Ga. – At first glance, you’d be hard-pressed to know there was plenty of star power lining up in the corner of Ben Kennedy prior to the start of Saturday night’s NASCAR K&N Series 150 at Gresham Motorsports Park.

As rain delayed the start of the evening’s main event at the half-mile paved oval, the 19-year-old Kennedy was tucked away inside the team hauler with his crew.

With the cars already impounded by NASCAR, they could only sit, wait and monitor the weather like every other team.

As the soaking rain finally turned into a drizzle, Kennedy gradually lost interest in watching the Weather Channel and began playing video games on his iPad.

Fresh off a career-best third place finish in the K&N Series at Bowman-Gray Stadium a week earlier, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. was simply doing his best to blend in with every other driver and team in a crowded garage.

Meanwhile, his mother, International Speedway Corporation chief executive officer Lesa France Kennedy, and the young driver’s two coaches, Gary Nelson, long considered one of the sport’s top crew chiefs, and former NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Elton Sawyer, were busy roaming the speedway grounds as they waited out the weather.

If there is pressure associated with being born into the family that controls NASCAR, it wasn’t evident on the face or in the voice of Ben Kennedy about 90 minutes before he strapped into his No. 96 Chevrolet.

“I just want to be one of the other drivers in the garage, to be honest,” said Kennedy, who finished 11th in Saturday night’s NASCAR-sanctioned race won by Max Gresham that ended shortly after midnight.

“I know there are definitely more eyes are on me. But I just want to be another guy in the garage just hanging out.”

During the two and a half hour rain delay, Lesa Kennedy made her way to track owner Jim Gresham’s suite overlooking the start-finish line.

About 30 minutes before the engines fired, it had become obvious that one of the most powerful women in motorsports had transformed into a racing mom.

“It’s somewhat nerve-wracking, but in a positive way,” said Kennedy, who rarely misses any of her son’s races.

Ben Kennedy is a rising sophomore at the University of Florida. Hitting the books during the week is a prerequisite for turning laps on Saturday nights.

“It’s a requirement for us for him to go to college and to complete college,” Lesa Kennedy said. “Ben has a passion for racing but education is important as well. He’s doing both right now, and I’m really happy for him.”

Attending college in Gainesville, Fla. during the week and showing up at the team’s race shop in Daytona Beach or a race track on the weekends makes for a busy schedule. But Kennedy says the balancing act is worthwhile.

“It’s definitely interesting,” Ben Kennedy said. “Basically, I get someone to drive me to some of these races so I get to do my homework on the way up. All week, it’s focus on homework. As soon as I get to the race shop, I can focus on the race stuff.”

Kennedy plans to use NASCAR’s K&N Series as a springboard to climb the stock car racing ladder. And he hopes to run the 24 Hours of Daytona Rolex race in the near future, possibly as early as next season.

“We’re going to run the whole K&N East the rest of this year and try to make it to a couple of West races too,” he said. “And then, hopefully, we’ll get the Super Late Model out for a few races and I hope we can run the Snowball (Derby in Pensacola, Fla. in December).

“I’ll maybe do this for another year or two, then I’ll start looking at trying to get an ARCA or Camping World Truck Series ride or something like that.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 12 2011
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