Waltrip, Curb among investors ready to renovate former NASCAR short track
The next generation of Petty pride is making his ARCA debut Saturday night as Thad Moffitt runs the No. 46 Ford at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee. With a helmet that's fit for "The King," Richard Petty's 16-year-old grandson is out to prove himself at the Music City 200. The helmet that #TheKings grandson @ThadMoffitt will wear tonight in his @ARCA_Racing debut. pic.twitter.com/EXcpKLiydH — RPMotorsports (@RPMotorsports) April 8, 2017 Empire Racing Group and Richard Petty Motorsports partnered to put Moffitt's No. 46 Petty-blue Ford on the track this weekend. "I love racing, being at the track and just learning and trying to get better each race," Moffitt said in a press release. "The ERG team has been great and I've had a lot of fun with them in the late model. They have a good ARCA program and I really wanted to make my debut in this series. "A lot of great drivers have raced in ARCA, and Uncle Kyle and Adam have both won in this series. It makes me really want to follow in their footsteps."
Photo credit: Richmond International Raceway BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond Richmond International Raceway announced Wednesday a retro look ahead of its first NASCAR weekend of 2017 on April 28-30, painting the exterior walls with red and white stripes. The classic look will pay homage to the roots of the Virginia facility, which hosted its first race on the .75-mile track in September 1988. Before that, NASCAR series competed on the .542-mile fairgrounds oval with alternating red and white paint adorning the metal guardrails. "I've always been fascinated by the historical racing images of the red and white on the wall at Richmond," track president Dennis Bickmeier said in a news release. "Our longtime fans have often shared their fond memories of the red stripes, so it is a great day when we can reconnect with our history on the track. The red stripes unite our past with our future. We hope fans will have an awe-inspiring moment as they walk into the track for our Toyota race weekend." Sherwin-Williams, the official paint of NASCAR, is providing materials for the track makeover. The look will be in place in time for the Richmond's first NASCAR weekend of the year, with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday, April 30, and the ToyotaCare 250 for the NASCAR XFINITY Series the preceding day. It's the second track this year to adopt a vintage look for its retaining walls. Atlanta Motor Speedway debuted a red, white and blue striped appearance ahead of its NASCAR tripleheader weekend last month. Darlington Raceway reintroduced the red and white stripes -- an initiative first promoted by longtime series sponsor R.J. Reynolds -- ahead of the 2009 Southern 500. Below is a look at the red striped walls in 1988. (Photo credit: ISC Images & Archives/Getty Images)
RELATED: NASCAR 101 NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races in more than 30 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and Europe. Known for its passionate fan base, one-of-a-kind playoff format, development of the modern sports sponsorship and commitment to enhancing auto racing through technology, NASCAR produces many of the most highly attended sporting events in the world. NASCAR did not gain the success or popularity it has today overnight. The sport has evolved to entertain its fans and continuously prosper. Early stock car racing In the years immediately following World War II, stock car racing was experiencing the greatest popularity it had ever seen. Tracks throughout the country were drawing more drivers and bigger crowds. Nonetheless, there was a serious lack of organization. From track to track, rules were different. Some tracks were makeshift facilities, producing one big show at a county fair or something similar to capitalize on the crowds flocking to the events. Other tracks were more suited to handle the cars, but not the crowds. Some could manage both, but did little to adhere to rules set by other tracks. Bill France Sr. organizes NASCAR In December of 1947, Bill France Sr., of Daytona Beach, Florida, organized a meeting at the Streamline Hotel, across the street from the Atlantic Ocean, to discuss the problems facing stock car racing. France had come to Florida from Washington, D.C., in 1935. He operated a local service station and also promoted races on the city's famed beach-road courses, often racing himself. He was a man of strong will -- and ambition. Thus, by the time that meeting at the Streamline Hotel was completed, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was born. Few knew when the meeting adjourned if the organization would be successful. In fact, there were skeptics who believed it never would work. Not even France, who believed a sanctioning body was exactly what stock car racing needed, could have envisioned what NASCAR has become today. Things came together quickly. The first NASCAR-sanctioned race was held on Daytona's beach-road course Feb. 15, 1948, just two months after the organizational meeting. Red Byron, a stock car legend from Atlanta, won the event in a Ford Modified. Six days later on Feb. 21, 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was incorporated. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is born It was 1949, however, when what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , the premier racing division in America, was born. Jim Roper of Great Bend, Kansas, was the winner of the first ever NASCAR Grand National event, held at the Charlotte Fairgrounds on June 19, 1949. A tremendous crowd attended the event to see race cars that looked like passenger cars compete door-to-door. The new racing series was off-and-running. And it was an immediate success. Plans were made to bring bigger, faster races to bigger, hungrier crowds and less than a year later (1950), the country's first asphalt superspeedway, Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, opened its doors for the new division. The first decade for the premier series was one of tremendous growth. Characters became heroes and fans hung on every turn of the wheel, watching drivers manhandle cars at speeds fans wished they could legally run themselves. Names like Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Herb Thomas, the Flock brothers, Bill Rexford, Paul Goldsmith and others became as well-known to race fans as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider were to baseball fans. Daytona International Speedway ushers in a new age of speed Looking to the future, and invigorated by the success of Darlington, Bill France Sr. began construction of a 2.5-mile, high-banked superspeedway four miles off the beach in Daytona Beach. France had helped lead the fight to keep racing affiliated with the city. When those looking to set land speed records began opting for the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah so the incoming and outgoing tides at Daytona Beach would not be a factor, the city wanted to maintain one of its main attractions -- fast cars and the beach. By the end of NASCAR's first decade, the city not only had held on to its racing roots, but had outgrown the beach and, in 1959, moved events to Daytona International Speedway . With its long back straightaway and sweeping high-banked turns of more than 30 degrees, the 2.5-mile tri-oval was one of the largest speedways in the world. The first Daytona 500 In the first race, fans were treated to something that each year still brings millions of fans to NASCAR races -- close competition. The first Daytona 500 didn't end, technically, for three days. It took that long for NASCAR officials to study a photograph of the finish between Petty and Johnny Beauchamp before declaring Petty the winner. The hook had been set. The following year (1960), superspeedways were opened just outside Atlanta and Charlotte. ABC televised the 1961 Firecracker 250 from Daytona Beach as part of its "Wide World of Sports." As the sport expanded, new heroes emerged. Lee Petty's son Richard, who would eventually be referred to as "The King" of stock car racing, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough, Ned Jarrett, David Pearson and Bobby Allison led NASCAR racing through an era that featured a schedule of more than 60 races a year on tracks from Florida to California to Maine. Fan interest grew and the demand for bigger, faster tracks was heard. In 1969, France opened the 2.66-mile Alabama International Motor Speedway (now known as Talladega Superspeedway ), the largest and fastest motorsports oval in the world. New tracks sprang up in Brooklyn, Michigan, (70 miles Southwest of Detroit), Dover, Delaware, (between Philadelphia and Baltimore) and Pocono, Pennsylvania, two hours from New York City). Bill France Jr. becomes NASCAR President The decade of the 1970s brought further change, including one at the top when Bill France Sr. passed the torch of leadership of NASCAR to his son Bill Jr. on Jan. 10, 1972. Corporate sponsorship of the series by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company through its Winston brand began in 1971 and NASCAR's premier division became known as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Reynolds' involvement later led to the NASCAR Winston West Series and the NASCAR Winston Racing Series (now NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series) -- weekly events held at tracks nationwide with drivers vying for 10 regional titles and a national championship. In 1976, NASCAR's premier division took the lead in worldwide motorsports attendance for the first time with more than 1.4 million spectators making their way to events, according to figures from the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. That lead never has been relinquished. Television exposure grew as well. The 1979 Daytona 500 became the first 500-mile race in history to be telecast live in its entirety. In 1981, NASCAR moved its annual awards ceremony to New York City from Daytona Beach for the first time. By the mid 1980s, Fortune 500 companies not only were involved in sponsoring NASCAR, but individual races and teams as well. Drivers such as Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott and others were rising to challenge Petty and Allison and Yarborough, displaying the colors of detergents and coffees and cereals on the hoods of their cars while doing it. Major consumer packaging companies like Kellogg's, General Foods, and Procter & Gamble were realizing what Bill France knew in the late 1940s -- stock car racing had a fervently loyal fan following. The XFINITY Series debuts In 1982, NASCAR consolidated the Late Model Sportsman Division into a new series. Since rising costs had made weekly racing for the Late Model stock cars difficult, the idea behind the creation of the series was to build big races, and to bring all of the regional-stars of the series together for all of the races. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. of St. Louis, Missouri, became the sponsor of the new NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series. In 1984, the Busch brand took over the sponsorship in what would become the NASCAR Busch Series. Starting in 2007, the series became known as the NASCAR Nationwide Series, via a new sponsorship deal with one the world's largest insurance providers. At the start of 2015, the series changed to the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Expansion continues through the 1990s, includes Indianapolis By 1989, just 10 years after the first 500-mile race to be broadcast live flag-to-flag, every race on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule was televised, nearly all of them live. As the decade of the 1990s began, perhaps no one but the sports visionaries could have imagined the growth NASCAR would undertake. Without question it was an exciting time. NASCAR began its meteoric rise by expansion in 1993 to New Hampshire International Speedway -- 70 miles north of Boston -- and in 1994, to the famed "Brickyard," Indianapolis Motor Speedway . The Camping World Truck Series starts up In May of 1994, NASCAR introduced a new series, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, involving full-sized, full-bodied pickup trucks. After several exhibition events, the first points event in the new series was held in February of 1995 in what would become the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The NASCAR Lifestyle becomes a national phenomenon At the same time, NASCAR's at-track attendance was growing monumentally. The NASCAR Lifestyle was becoming a national phenomenon with cover stories in Forbes and Sports Illustrated. To help feed the tremendous growth, NASCAR launched its official website in 1995 ( www.nascar.com ) and in 1997, NASCAR branched out again, adding races in top 10 markets like Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft. Worth and a second date in New Hampshire. The 1998 season marked the celebration of NASCAR's 50th anniversary, honoring NASCAR's past, present and future. NASCAR's top division expanded once again, this time to Las Vegas. From 1993 to 1998, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ' at-track attendance alone grew 57 percent (by 2.2 million) to over 6.3 million and its top three divisions combined grew a staggering 80 percent (by 4.1 million), to over 9.3 million. Topping off NASCAR's explosion in the '90s was the announcement in November 1999 of a consolidated television package with FOX Sports/FX and NBC Sports/TNT for NASCAR's top two series beginning in 2001. At the same time, DaimlerChrysler announced intentions to return its Dodge nameplate to NASCAR's top division for 2001, after a 15-year hiatus. In 2007, a new TV package was introduced, with ABC and ESPN returning to the NASCAR fold. As the sport's fan base grew, NASCAR grew internally as well. In November of 2000, Mike Helton became the third president in NASCAR history as the torch of leadership passed to a non-France family member for the first time. Bill France became Chairman and CEO, leading the newly created NASCAR Board of Directors. By the turn of the century, new stars emerged such as Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte and second-generation driver Dale Jarrett. NASCAR's drivers, teams and tracks once again saw unprecedented exposure, this time with the aid of an expanded 36-race schedule and its new television package in 2001. The TV story was proving a remarkable success as viewership for the Daytona 500 grew 48 percent (over 6 million) to 18.7 million viewers between 1993 and 2002. When FOX Sports aired its first Daytona 500 in 2001, viewership increased 32 percent (4.1 million) to over 17 million from the 2000 broadcast. Brian France becomes NASCAR Chairman and CEO In 2003, NASCAR made two major announcements to help the dawn of the new era become even clearer. NASCAR announced in June that Nextel would become the new series sponsor in 2004, replacing R.J. Reynolds' Winston brand after 33 years. Three months later in September, Brian Z. France was named as NASCAR's CEO and Chairman of the Board replacing his father, Bill France. A steady parade of changes has followed. The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup was announced at the start of 2004, ushering in a new format to determine the champion of NASCAR's premier series. In 2006, Toyota announced a move into all three of NASCAR's national series. In 2007 it was announced that the premier series' name would be changed to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series beginning in 2008. In addition, Nationwide Insurance was announced as the replacement for Anheuser-Busch as main sponsor of NASCAR's series born from Late Models in 1982. The 2007 season also marked the beginning of NASCAR's new car in premier series competition, a car designed to be safer than ever while also reducing costs to compete -- all the while enhancing the racing itself. The new car could not slow down Jimmie Johnson who captured a record five consecutive championships from 2006-2010, becoming only the second driver to win three consecutive titles (Cale Yarborough 1976-1978). During the late 2000s, NASCAR began further expanding by creating series internationally. The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and the NASCAR Toyota Series (Mexico) launched their inaugural seasons in 2007. The sanctioning body extended its reach across the Atlantic when it founded the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in 2012. Today, NASCAR runs three national series, four regional series, one local grassroots series and three international series. Winning formula: Gen-6 car, new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format, new series sponsorship In 2013, NASCAR continued enhance its racing, debuting its Gen-6 car that enhanced body designs to better resemble the cars found in showrooms across the United States and improve on-track performance. NASCAR also secured its television rights through 2024 by agreeing to a 10-year rights deal with NBC Universal and an eight-year rights extension with FOX. To emphasize winning races, NASCAR created a new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff format for 2014 and unveiled its new grid format for advancing drivers. In 2015, XFINITY replaced Nationwide as the title sponsor for the series "Where Names are Made." Late in 2016, France would introduce Monster Energy as only the third premier series entitlement sponsor in league history. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series would help usher in a new era of NASCAR, which included an enhanced-race format that saw each race run in three stages. Resources NASCAR on Facebook NASCAR on Twitter NASCAR on YouTube
RELATED: Get to know the 2016-17 NASCAR Next class DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 17, 2016) – Two are following in the footsteps of their former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driving fathers. One is a long-time racer who competed on the reality television show "Survivor," and later added a degree from Stanford University. Another is one of the fastest rising stock car drivers in the Midwest. There is even a pair of international phenoms. From Charlotte to New York City, and from Quebec to Israel, the 11 drivers who were announced as the 2016-17 NASCAR Next class today are primed for a successful and impactful future in NASCAR. This is the sixth edition of NASCAR Next, an industry-wide initiative designed to spotlight to best and brightest rising young stars in racing. "The NASCAR Next program has introduced current stars such as Kyle Larson , Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney to the NASCAR fan, and we believe this year’s class has the same potential," said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president of marketing and industry services. "These drivers have shown the talent and intangibles to climb the NASCAR ladder, and we look forward to watching their careers grow." This year's NASCAR Next class was selected through an evaluation process that included input from industry executives, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Drivers Council and media. Drivers must be between the ages of 15-25, have tangible and expressed goals in eventual competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and demonstrate the potential to realize that goal. MORE: Full NASCAR Next coverage The following drivers have been selected to the 2016-17 NASCAR Next class: Harrison Burton ( @HBurtonRacing ) - The 15-year-old from Huntersville, North Carolina, is the son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Burton . He has climbed to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series after setting the record last year as the youngest Division I race winner in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series history. Collin Cabre ( @CollinCabre12 ) – In his second season driving for Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, the 22-year-old from Tampa, Florida, captured his first career win last October after making the successful move from racing sprint cars. Spencer Davis ( @SpencerDavis_29 ) – The 17-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia, driver has shown a proficiency in nearly everything he’s raced. After winning the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award last season in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, Davis has transitioned to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, where he has established himself as a championship contender with top six finishes in his first seven series starts dating back to last season. Alon Day ( @Alon_Day ) – One of two international drivers on the list, Day is the first NASCAR Whelen Euro Series driver to earn a NASCAR Next recognition. Day, 24, from Ashdod, Israel, completed his first full season in the Whelen Euro Series as championship runner-up. Including the final two rounds of 2015, Day has won four of the last eight Elite 1 races and is again a threat win the title. Tyler Dippel ( @Tyler_Dippel ) – An accomplished dirt racer, the 16-year-old from Wallkill, New York, has already scored his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victory in March. Dippel previously competed in the DIRTcar Racing Series in the northeast, earning the rookie of the year title and becoming the youngest race winner in that series. Todd Gilliland ( @ToddGilliland_ ) – The son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran David Gilliland , the 16-year-old from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, made NASCAR history by winning his first four career NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts. He became the youngest winner in series history with his victory last fall, and has followed it up with wins in both the K&N Pro Series East and West season openers this year. Noah Gragson ( @NoahGragson ) – The 17-year-old from Las Vegas finished second in the championship standings last year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, collecting the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the process. Gragson followed the path set by Kyle and Kurt Busch , learning his trade in the Legends and Bandolero Divisions at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . He earned a pair of K&N Pro Series West wins in 2015 and is again a championship contender. Gary Klutt ( @Garyklutt ) – The second Canadian to be named to the program and the first full-time driver from the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, Klutt represents a crop of young drivers making an impact on Canada’s championship stock car series. The 23-year-old from Halton Hills, Ontario, earned his first career pole and win last year en route to being named the Jostens Rookie of the Year. He finished fifth in series points and will be among the title contenders when the series opens later this month. Julia Landauer ( @julialandauer ) – Landauer, 24, from New York City, got her start racing a variety of cars – from Formula BMW to Ford Focus Midgets to stock cars. The versatile Landauer was a contestant on the hit reality show 'Survivor' before graduating from Stanford in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Science, Technology, and Society. She became the first female to win a Limited Late Model division championship at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia, last year before graduating to the K&N Pro Series West this season. Ty Majeski ( @TyMajeski ) – The 21-year-old from Seymour, Wisconsin, showcased his ability with a dominating display at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway in February, collecting three wins and earning the 2016 Super Late Model championship in the 50th Annual World Series of Stock Car Racing. Majeski added a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model track record and victory in the FrostBuster at Wisconsin’s LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in April. Matt Tifft ( @Matt_Tifft ) – A development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing , the 19-year-old from Hinckley, Ohio, is driving part-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for JGL Racing as well as JGR, and racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Red Horse Racing. He earned his first career pole in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Talladega earlier this month. Since its inception in 2011, 27 of the 35 drivers who have been selected as part of the program have gone on to compete in one of NASCAR’s three national series. Nearly a third of the drivers have made a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, with nine drivers winning a NASCAR national series race. The last two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookies of the Year have been NASCAR Next alum, as are the top two contenders for this year’s award: Blaney and Elliott. The last three Sunoco Rookie of the Year winners in both the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series were also part of the NASCAR Next program. For more information, visit NASCARNext.com and make sure to follow the drivers on Twitter and on the track. About NASCAR The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. (NASCAR) is the sanctioning body for the No. 1 form of motorsports in the United States. NASCAR consists of three national series (the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series™, NASCAR XFINITY Series™, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series™), four regional series, one local grassroots series and three international series. The International Motor Sports Association™ (IMSA®) governs the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship™, the premier U.S. sports car series. Based in Daytona Beach, Fla., with offices in eight cities across North America, NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races in more than 30 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and Europe. For more information visit http://www.NASCAR.com and http://www.IMSA.com , and follow NASCAR on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram , and Snapchat ('NASCAR').
Ask some of the people who work most closely with Ben Rhodes about him and you'll get the same sense -- that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie isn't an ordinary 19-year-old. Ask his crew chief. "I've known this kid since he was 15 years old and he was always very mature, very respectful and acts older than he is," Kevin Bellicourt says. "I mean, the way he has shown maturity in the race car and everything around that, I do forget that he is 19 years old." Ask the sports director who co-hosts Rhodes' TV show -- yes, his own TV show -- in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. "I'll look at him sometimes and I'll just be like, 'Look, stop it. Just be a kid.' But he's not," Kent Spencer says. "He's definitely wise beyond his years." The wisdom has served Rhodes well in all facets of his budding NASCAR career, which carried him to the K&N Pro Series East championship in 2014 and a stint with the NASCAR Next youth initiative that identifies the sport's up-and-coming stars. The next step is a full-season campaign this year with powerhouse ThorSport Racing in the Truck Series, which makes its next stop Friday night at Kansas Speedway . Even in casual conversation, Rhodes' composure comes through in a calm that belies his age, less than one year removed from receiving a high school diploma. It's a collected nature that helps him feel just as at home in front of a TV camera's lens as he does behind the wheel. Rhodes doesn't have to balance a racing career with schoolwork any more, but his focus is far from singular. "It's full-time racing now, and it's full-time everything that has to do with racing, not just being on the track or working on the cars, but sponsors, events, fans -- which is cool," Rhodes says. "I really like that aspect of it. You can't be on the track without that." The story of how Rhodes came to be on the track isn't unlike the tale of other youngsters with a dream and a heavy right foot. But it's the unique wrinkles of his narrative that make Rhodes' story ready for prime time. Early beginnings Around their home state, where the term "racing" is most commonly associated with Thoroughbreds, it's fitting that Rhodes' career choice was galvanized by figuratively getting back on the horse. Rhodes had barely entered grade school when the itch for speed struck him. He recalls helping his older brother, Chris, try to emulate his father's practice of removing the governor from their go-karts, much to their mother's dismay. The recreational -- and occasionally unrestricted -- karting soon led to competition. "We were having a blast around the house," Rhodes says, "but when we hit the race track, it didn't really click at first and it took awhile before I got in a wreck to figure it out." Rhodes recalls crashing his first time out -- the leader coming around to lap him, clipping one of his back wheels and landing on top of his kart. The wreck naturally made him gun-shy, but it took another altercation to set his course toward making racing a lifelong pursuit. Rhodes' family vividly recalls that incident at the Clark County, Indiana, 4-H Fairgrounds , where the 7-year-old driver was on the receiving end of an intentional wreck for the first time. His family worked to repair his kart while the youngster seethed, intent on retaliation. But as Rhodes began to furiously charge back through the pack, something changed in his demeanor. "Once I passed the other guy, I didn't even think about wanting revenge or whatever, I just started having a blast," Rhodes says. "Passing cars was a lot more fun than getting passed, and that's when it all started clicking for me. We started working on set-ups and had just an awesome time doing it. It was an awesome family experience." Into NASCAR Those first forays led to progression and an eventual place in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at age 16. After a partial first season, his first full campaign in 2014 netted a remarkable five victories and six pole positions, with Bellicourt serving as his car chief. The performance drew the interest of JR Motorsports, which fielded Rhodes in a 10-race slate in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2015. After a seventh-place series debut at Iowa Speedway in May, Rhodes endured largely uneven results in the JRM No. 88, despite help from the team's fleet of Sprint Cup drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kevin Harvick , Chase Elliott and Regan Smith . "I learned so much from them, but the problem is it was hard to apply it," Rhodes says of his sporadic schedule. "You have to be in the car feeling it. I had a month between times (in the car) more than once before I could actually feel what they were talking about or actually apply it. All the momentum that you had was lost. It was just really hard for me to get adjusted to and just hard to keep the learning going, but the jump, I felt like if I ran the whole season, the jump maybe wouldn't have been that bad." An offseason to regroup also led to a new opportunity, as one of the newest faces at ThorSport Racing, a championship-caliber team with an evolving driver roster. In the offseason, Rhodes joined two-time Truck Series champ Matt Crafton , second-year driver Cameron Hayley and fellow rookie Rico Abreu under the watch of team owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson. The team's drivers have perennially lauded the resources that the Thorsons provide to compete at a high level. Rhodes found this out early on, when they sought his input to hire a crew chief for his No. 41 Toyota. He immediately thought of Bellicourt, who had just finished helping William Byron as crew chief for his K&N East championship run in 2015. In some respects, the job was a tougher sell than most, requiring Bellicourt to move from North Carolina to within reach of ThorSport's Sandusky, Ohio, shop. But it was also a commitment for his wife, his 11-month-old daughter and the baby the couple are expecting in early June. But the opportunity to move from the regional and touring level to a NASCAR national series was too good to pass up. After taking the leap, the driver-crew chief reunion went seamlessly. "The communication is back to where it was and it's like we never even left off," Rhodes says. "I remember the first time that he was up at ThorSport and I was there and we were having such a good time. None of the guys up there had seen us run before or work together, so when we came up there, they were like, 'We've got a feeling that you just brought your best friend in to work on these race cars.' That was kind of cool that we hit it off right away once again." Says Bellicourt: "We just have a good time. I understand what he's saying when he's talking about the truck, and he understands when I'm trying to make a point with him. His understanding of the race car has just come a long way since I first met him when he was 15. He understands that a lot, and all the set-up stuff. That just helps a lot, too, with the driver having that knowledge. We've just been able to roll with it so far this season." Rolling with it has meant gradual gains in the early stages of the year, but one accomplishment stands out -- winning the pole position last month at Martinsville Speedway . Though a late-race wreck saddled Rhodes with a midpack 16th-place result, the speed shown in qualifying and out front for 42 laps made a solid impression. "It felt really good to get the pole because it validates what we know that we have," Rhodes says. "We're trying to show others what my crew chief and I know. We have an awesome relationship and we know how to set up the race cars, we know how to get speed, it's just a matter of getting the experience together now. It just validates that." The fact that Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch was among the competitive field in qualifying that day didn't hurt the team's confidence, Bellicourt says. "You look at that and say there's no reason we can't run with any of these guys," Bellicourt says. "Now Ben knows it. We knew it before, but you always want to make it happen and then you just get that extra confidence. I know it, the guys know it, Ben knows it, and hopefully now everybody else sees what we're capable of. "We're looking to continue to do more of that to show that it wasn't just a flash-in-the-pan, one-time thing. We're going to try to do it at Kansas again." On the mic Rhodes has visions of keeping his racing aspirations going, climbing the ladder, chasing victories. But if his NASCAR dream somehow ended tomorrow, he has an entertaining backup plan -- in television. The 19-year-old is in his fifth season as co-host of "On Track with Ben Rhodes ," a 30-minute weekly show that chronicles his racing career and allows him to meet and interview personalities in the Louisville area. Kent Spencer -- the sports director at WHAS-11, an ABC affiliate in Louisville -- has served as the show's other co-host since its inception. "I'd met Ben before, but in kind of a different realm," Spencer says. "He was a young man trying to come up, went to a local high school, trying to make it in NASCAR, so we interviewed a few times there. This was obviously a different beast. He and I have a really good rapport together, we like to be around each other, so we kind of knew early on that this was going to work." The experience has allowed Rhodes to interact with community leaders from all walks of life. This season, Rhodes and Spencer have taken their show on the road, spending time with charitable organizations, returning to Holy Cross High School (the driver's alma mater), and paying visits to Churchill Downs, site of Saturday's 142nd Kentucky Derby. Rhodes' comfort on camera has grown not only in his hometown, but also during media sessions in the garage on race weekends. "I get to see and build new relationships with people, but it's also trained me to talk to the media and how to talk on camera," he says. "Before the show, I was really, really bad. Now that I've done the show for a couple seasons, I've done a lot better and it makes the job at the race track a lot easier for me." Even Bellicourt has noticed. "You give that kid a microphone and you're going to have to rip it out of his hand before he quits talking," he says with a laugh. "He's very outgoing and does a good job with that. He's kind of a total-package guy. He's got the marketing side, he's really good in front of the camera and obviously has performed on the race track great, so he's got an enormous amount of talent." It all circles back to the versatility and composure that extends beyond Rhodes' years. "I got that feeling from him back when he was 17," Spencer says. "You could definitely tell he's not a normal high school junior, not a normal high school senior. It's just the way he goes about things and the way he can communicate, and I think a large part of that is because the way that his mom and dad make him do a lot on his own. "If you want this dream, it's not easy. You're going to have to work for it. Every week, we get done taping the show and Ben helps tear down the set. He does a lot setting up his own schedule. He's out there and he's doing it, getting the job done, but there's a lot of times where it just blows me away." Several drivers with successful NASCAR credentials have made smooth transitions to the broadcasting booth for second careers after their driving days are done. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon added his name to the list this season, joining FOX Sports for its coverage of the sport. Rhodes says he'd love to see a similar trajectory for his career, but right now he's one-upping it -- by taking on both jobs at once. "Hopefully my racing career goes on for a long time and I can build up a great reputation and go out on TV broadcasting," he says. "I think it's really cool that drivers do that once they're done, and they're able to go up in the broadcast booth and shine new light on the subject and able to give fans kind of the inside scoop on things. As things change and progress, maybe some of the other broadcasters might not be aware of it. "New drivers like Jeff Gordon and the guys that are fresh out of the race car can show them and talk about what's changing in the sport. I think that's really cool that drivers can do that." Spoken like a kid who is wise beyond his years.
RELATED: Learn more about the NASCAR Hall of Fame There's a possibility, albeit remote, that O. Bruton Smith could be entering the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a race car driver instead of a race promoter extraordinaire. Smith, at age 17, bought a race car and decided to be a professional driver. "One time, I actually beat (NASCAR Hall of Famers) Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly," Smith said in a May 7, 2005, interview with Motorsport.com. "So I knew when I beat them I could be a contender, right?" Smith's mother, however, believed otherwise and appealed to a Higher Authority. She prayed her son would change his mind. "She started fighting dirty," Smith said in the same interview. "You can’t fight your mom and God, so I stopped driving." NASCAR stock car racing became the beneficiary of the intervention. Smith turned to race promotion, ultimately creating some of America's greatest facilities. His eight-track Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI), anchored by Charlotte Motor Speedway , helped boost the sport to new heights in the 1950s and was the first American motorsports company to go public in 1995. The Oakboro, North Carolina native is part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame's class of 2016 that includes Jerry Cook, Bobby Isaac, Terry Labonte and Curtis Turner. Induction ceremonies will be held Jan. 22 in Charlotte, N.C. and will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. by the NBCSN. Born on a farm in rural North Carolina, Smith never considered an agricultural life. He hated the thought of being poor, which a childhood during the throes of the Great Depression appeared to suggest. "You have food, clothing and shelter but you never have any money and I never did like that. I did not like that," Smith said in a July 2003 Car & Driver story authored by Bob Zeller. "You worked from sunup to sundown, but you never did see the rewards." By 1949, Smith had his own stock car racing association, the National Stock Car Racing Association, which was a direct competitor to William H.G. "Big Bill" France's fledgling NASCAR. Both groups fought for the same drivers and neither was making much money. France and Smith discussed a possible merger in 1950 but the Korean War and U.S. Army scuttled the negotiations. Smith was drafted, served two years stateside as a paratrooper and by the time he mustered out the NSCRA was defunct. Smith began to be noticed in 1954 when he took over promotion of the half-mile track at the Charlotte Fairgrounds . Motorsports writer Russ Catlin wrote of "the genius of a 27-year-old fanatic named Bruton Smith … who took a poorly lighted, run-down half-mile track that wends around a muddy lake and built it into a spectacular speed emporium." In partnership with Turner and others, Smith built Charlotte Motor Speedway , completed in 1960 at a cost of $1.5 million. The first Coca-Cola 600 – then the World 600 – was the facility's opening event. Eventually, Smith decided just owning the 1.5-mile track wasn't enough. Boosting its profile meant adding seats, building suites and condos for VIP customers – and changing demographics of ticket buyers and sponsors. "He took a cue from the oil industry in World War II when they were trying to get women who were suddenly driving the family car to stop in and pump gas at their service stations," said CMS' then-general manager Humpy Wheeler. "What they did was clean up the stations and make sure they had a decent women's rest room." By 2000, the track's customer base was 40 percent female. "I took the position that Charlotte Motor Speedway was constantly under construction," said Smith, a statement that describes how the now 88-year-old entrepreneur views his racing empire. Fueled in part by public stock offerings, Smith acquired Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990 and Bristol Motor Speedway in 1996 – expanding the latter from 71,000 to 160,000 seats. SMI bought Sonoma Raceway in 1996, Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1997, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2007 and Kentucky Speedway in 2008. Smith built and opened Texas Motor Speedway – SMI's signature project – in 1997, which rose from the prairie outside Fort Worth. The track later added Big Hoss TV, the world's largest HD screen measuring 20l,633.64 square feet. SMI presents 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races annually, including three in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . "He (is) such an innovator. He would think of something and do it," said NASCAR Hall of Fame voter Eddie Wood, co-owner of the Wood Brothers Racing team, in a May 20, 2015 interview with ESPN’s Bob Pockrass. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France agrees. "He deserves to be in (the NASCAR Hall of Fame); he's made a huge impact (on the sport) obviously," France said. "He has given the fans an experience that has transformed the sport." Tickets are available for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Dinner and Ceremony (limited quantities available). Individual ticket and ticket packages are available at ticketmaster.com, the NASCAR Hall of Fame Box Office or by calling 800.745.3000.
RELATED: See Larson's throwback for Sprint Cup " Buy tickets CONCORD, N.C. (Aug. 25, 2016) – Like peanut butter and jelly, or the Southern 500 and Labor Day weekend, country music and NASCAR seemingly go hand in hand. For this year's NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) race at Darlington Raceway , Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kyle Larson will be getting a retro makeover on his No. 42 ENEOS Chevrolet Camaro based on a car driven by country music legend Marty Robbins, who also frequently ran the No. 42. While some sing about the things they'd like to do, Robbins strapped on a helmet and did the thing he loved to do, which was race. The country singer, best known for his songs "El Paso" and "Big Iron," competed in a total of 35 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races from 1966-1982, and also ran one race in the Grand National East Series. Robbins was a well-respected driver among his competitors and his familiar purple and gold car was always a fan favorite when he raced at the Nashville Fairgrounds . This weekend, ENEOS and Chip Ganassi Racing are excited to bring back Robbins' familiar paint scheme as Darlington once again celebrates NASCAR's history with a throwback-themed weekend.
Brothers disagree on how much dirt-track racing NASCAR should have ROSSBURG, Ohio -- They're brothers, Austin and Ty Dillon , so of course they sometimes disagree. There were certainly a few differing opinions during an Abbott and Costello-esque joint media availability with the two drivers at Eldora Speedway in advance of Wednesday night's 1-800-Car-Cash Mud Summer Classic. The mid-week race is the lone yearly foray onto dirt for one of NASCAR's three national series, and Wednesday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the half-mile, high-banked dirt oval owned by Tony Stewart is the third consecutive year the trucks stop in western Ohio. While some of the discussion between the brothers was humorous -- both considered themselves the favorite to win, with Austin asking Ty to go on the record and putting his recorded answer on Instagram -- there was a very real difference of opinion on a talking point throughout the NASCAR community. Should there be more races on dirt, and should the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and/or the NASCAR XFINITY Series be involved? "My opinion is, I think this event has gained so much exposure and has done such a good job for the Truck Series," Ty Dillon said. "I know everyone wants to see more dirt races throughout the series, but I think we need to keep it unique to the Truck Series. What it is now is an event everybody looks forward to, and I think if you start adding too many of them, you're going to kind of cloud the specialness of the event. "And I think this is a prestigious event -- at least it is to me and the folks in the dirt world. You start adding more to the schedule, it takes a little bit away from it for me personally." It took less than three seconds for Ty's older brother to offer his retort and draw in Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage -- in town for the event, and hanging out in the media center -- into his argument. "I disagree -- guess what, we're brothers," Austin Dillon said with a chuckle. "I don't know, I like these races and I think they're fun. We've got a guy in the back (Gossage) who could make it happen if we wanted a dirt race in Texas. "It brings something new to our sport, changes it up and brings new fans who are curious to see what it's like. And it's good racing. Look at the highlights of the last two years racing here and you could probably put that in any highlight reel that NASCAR's had in the last 10 years." MORE: Ty makes light of Keselowski's asphalt background Austin Dillon won the inaugural event in 2013, with Darrell Wallace Jr . taking top honors in 2014 after outlasting Kyle Larson ; Ty Dillon finished fifth last year. The 2013 victory for Austin Dillon , who drives the No. 3 Chevrolet full time in the Sprint Cup Series, came at NASCAR's first national series event at a dirt track since 1970, when Richard Petty won at North Carolina State Fairgrounds . Austin and Ty may disagree on NASCAR's dirt future, but there was one resounding theme in which there was harmony between the two -- and everyone in the garage area Wednesday agree. "This event is very special," Austin Dillon said. "I think it's awesome to see a dirt track develop like this. I'm really thankful for what Tony (Stewart) is doing here." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
JTG Daugherty team celebrates, but sends thoughts and prayers to family, Stewart RELATED: Complete coverage of Tony Stewart incident WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- The theatrics and fireworks of NASCAR's brand of road-course racing was omnipresent as usual at Watkins Glen International , but so was an underlying solemn tone of remembrance after the events of the night before. While AJ Allmendinger celebrated his first Sprint Cup Series victory in the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen and the sealing of his postseason fate, a strong portion of his thoughts were clearly devoted to Kevin Ward Jr., the 20-year-old victim of a sprint-car incident involving Tony Stewart . "I think it's one of those things that you look back at and it's a tough time for everybody," said Allmendinger. "I said on TV after the race, this NASCAR community, as a whole we're a family, and when anything like that happens, it's something that you don't just kind of erase and you forget about. And all of our thoughts and prayers, and it may not seem like it, or I wish there was more to do, but it goes to the Ward family and what happened. It also goes to Tony because it's not like he's sitting there and forgetting about it. It's a tough scenario. "You just try to come together. That's all you can do. You try to be thankful every day for the things that we have, the things that we're able to share together, and you also know that there's a lot less fortunate out there and there's a lot of disasters, whether it's in racing or not. You just try to keep that in perspective and always have your thoughts and prayers and do whatever you can to help out and be better with it." Ward was declared dead on arrival at a local hospital Saturday night after he was struck while on foot by Stewart's sprint car during a 25-lap main event for the touring Empire Super Sprints series at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, a half-mile dirt track on the Ontario County Fairgrounds . The county sheriff's office continue to investigate the incident and said Sunday that no criminal charges are pending. Stewart was absent at the track Sunday with NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Regan Smith replacing him in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet. Several of Stewart's fellow Sprint Cup drivers declined comment on the incident, with some saying details were too sparse to make an informed statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ward family," said third-place finisher Kurt Busch, a first-year teammate to Stewart at the Stewart-Haas operation. "It was a tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody involved. It's a tough situation for the motorsports world. I'm not at liberty really to speak anymore of it." While the mood of Allmendinger's JTG Daugherty team was buoyant after that operation's first win in NASCAR's premier series, the organization's brass was quick to temper their joy in light of the recent events. "Obviously just a catastrophic evening last evening," said team co-owner Brad Daugherty, also an ESPN analyst. "Our sympathies go out to the family that lost the young man. And it's been a difficult day for the Stewart‑Haas organization. We all recognize that and we all feel like we're all family because we travel 36 weeks out of the year it seems like 100 years together. Our hearts go out to Tony, but specifically out to the family. "It's a tremendous loss, and I thought that Stewart‑Haas and Tony and those guys did the right thing by showing the appropriate respect to the situation as well as the family ‑‑ more importantly to the family by not racing today. We'll see what unfolds of that, but our thoughts and prayers go out to that family." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule