Long before he’s legally able to drive on the interstate, people trust Ben Rhodes, a 15-year old student at Holy Cross High School, to drive a race car in excess of 160 miles an hour.
Rhodes is currently in the midst of his first season racing with the United Auto Racing Association’s STARS division and drives the #9 Stanley/Alpha Energy Solutions Ford Fusion Marcos Ambrose Motorsport car.
Under the development team of Marcos Ambrose Motorsport, Rhodes is able to learn from a NASCAR Sprint Cup racer and also have someone guide him in his racing career.
Rhodes’ career began with go-kart racing when he was seven years old. He drove the water bug-like carts, darting around tracks throughout the region while winning numerous regional and state awards, including the 2007 Indiana state karting championship. In 2008, Rhodes began racing Bandolero race cars (which look like miniature stock cars and reach speeds of 70-80 mph) and was named the 2009 Kentucky state Bandolero Bandits champion. In 2010, Rhodes made his debut in the larger, faster cars of the Legends division and won 43 races the following year, more than any other Legends racer.
Since his entry into the late-model stock car series, Rhodes has had three top 10 finishes in his first six starts in the 2012 season. Often the youngest competitor in races, Rhodes said he does not let the older competitors — who are often 10 to 15 years his senior — intimidate him.
“It doesn’t enter my mind. I just stay focused and don’t listen to what they say,” he said in a phone interview June 29.
To date, the most exhilarating moment of his career, he said, came at the 2012 Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown held at the Richmond International Raceway in Virginia. Competing against such racing legends as Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton, Rhodes finished sixth.
“Just being invited to the race was huge. There was a number of amazing drivers,” Rhodes said. “Just being able to compete against them and to finish sixth was a huge part of my life.”
When Rhodes is behind the wheel of his car, sprinting around the track at 150 mph, he has to maintain intense focus and be able to make split-second decisions, he said.
“My adrenaline starts pumping, and there is tons of stuff going on,” he said. “I’m checking the oil and water temps, listening to my spotter, checking my mirrors. You have to have really sharp focus and think about all of it at once.”
Rhodes recently signed a promotional agreement with TEAM, a division of Louisville Catholic Sports Network, to gain more exposure and to secure additional endorsements and sponsorships.
Steve Fehder, president of Louisville Catholic Sports Network, said he recently formed TEAM (Talent, Endorsement and Marketing) to work with Catholic sports figures to help market and represent them. Fehder said he was blown away by Rhodes’ talent and was even more impressed by the young man’s polite attitude.
“I realized he was very special and that he could ultimately be one of the most popular athletes to come out of Louisville. With that said, when you meet him and he looks you in the eye, gives you a firm handshake, says ‘yes sir, no sir,’ and can eloquently answer questions, you just know he is beyond most kids his age.
“He is humble. He is a great young man. Ben is a great role model for kids of all ages, and those are extremely hard to find these days,” Fehder said.
Now that it’s summer, Rhodes can focus solely on his racing, but once August comes he will again have to balance his time between his career and his academics at Holy Cross — a feat he does pretty well.
“Ben is an excellent student. He’s on the principal’s list, which means he has a 4.0 grade point average. He has to put forth extra effort when he is gone, but he does a nice job,” said Tim Weihe, president of Holy Cross.
Weihe also said that Rhodes was one of the most “polite, respectful young men” that he has ever met, but notes that administrators will be extra vigilant when he gets his license.
“Once he gets his driver’s license, we will monitor his speed in the parking lot very closely,” Weihe joked.
For now, Rhodes is focusing on the remainder of the 2012 UARA season and has begun to look ahead to next season.
“My primary goal is to win the UARA STARS championship next season,” Rhodes said. “Ultimately, I want to race in the NASCAR sprint series. Right now I’m on a great path, and racing under Marcos certainly helps.”
By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer