A name you’ll be hearing a lot more of in NASCAR: racing phenom Ben Rhodes

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Kyle Busch. Joey Logano. Kyle Larson.

You may soon add Ben Rhodes to the list of young phenom drivers that have gone on to stardom in the Sprint Cup Series.

Rhodes, just 17, has already clinched NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East championship in his first season on the circuit.

Friday night, he makes his second career ARCA Series start at his home track, Kentucky Speedway, located just over an hour from Rhodes’ Louisville-area home.

Several cars and busloads of friends, family members and teachers and fellow students from Holy Cross High School, where he’s a senior (and with a perfect 4.0 grade point average), will also be on hand to cheer Rhodes on.

While some drivers might feel pressure at having such a loud crowd in attendance, Rhodes thrives on it.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Rhodes, who was named the K&N Pro Series East/Sunoco Rookie of the Year on Wednesday. “I’m going to be looking for them up in the seats.”

But Rhodes has another thing in mind, as well. Although it’s only his second career ARCA start, he’s going into the race with the same attitude he did on the K&N Series this season: to win, period.

“That’s definitely the goal every time I get into a race car,” Rhodes said. “Doing it on my home track would make it even more special.”

Rhodes is a member of the 2014 NASCAR Next class, which contains over a dozen different drivers across several race series who are looked upon as the next generation of racers in the sport.

Present day drivers such as Larson, Austin Dillon and Dylan Kwasniewski are among past NASCAR Next class members.

Rhodes has done a phenomenal job in his first season on the K&N Series. In 15 starts, he has five wins (including four in a row; he missed tying Ricky Craven’s K&N record of five straight), 11 top-five and 13 top-10 finishes with one more race to go next weekend at Dover. He also has earned six pole positions.

He’s also competed in three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events thus far, with two top-10 finishes. He has one more truck race scheduled for later this season at Phoenix.

Rhodes has been racing for 10 years. His father bought him a used go-kart when he was seven and he’s been racing since.

But Rhodes’ start in a go-kart wasn’t exactly the smoothest or easiest.

“I hated it at first,” he said in an interview with MST. “I got ran over by a guy in my first race. The car was sitting on top of me. He ran over my bumper, ran over my feet and I actually got lapped several times. So it wasn’t a good race, it wasn’t a good start.

“I wanted to quit, but my did had just bought this go-kart. I was too afraid to tell him to sell the thing, I don’t want to do it no more. So I just stuck with it and kept going. Eventually, I started winning races and I really enjoyed it.”

He progressed up the racing ladder from go-karts to bandalero’s to Legends cars, where he won an uncanny 43 races in 2011 as a 14-year-old. In his first full season in the late model class in 2013, he won six races in a very difficult category.

But no one could have predicted the success that awaited Rhodes in the K&N series this season.

“It’s still amazing. It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he said.

But the fierce competitor he is – you’d never know it by meeting him because he seems to have such a quiet and low-key demeanor – Rhodes expects and demands perfection from himself.

“As a racer, at least for me, I never enjoy the moment,” he said. “I’m too caught up in what I did, what mistakes I made, trying to improve and to get better for the next race. I don’t enjoy the moment; that’s my biggest problem.

“After we clinched (the K&N championship) at Greenville-Pickens, I was actually mad at myself more than happy because I let the race go because I made a mistake.

“We still won the championship, but to me, you feel so close to winning and it’s so hard to get the win, when you make a mistake and you know you’ve cost your team, your guys and yourself the race.

“But then seeing my guys in victory lane with the trophy and champagne, they were so pumped up and that lifted my spirits quite a bit. That’s when it started sinking in a bit.”

Rhodes has climbed the racing ladder of success quicker than most. While it’s likely he’ll return to the K&N Series for another go-round next season, he’s not ruling out the possibility of jumping to the Camping World Truck Series or Nationwide (soon to be Xfinity) Series if the right financial deal and sponsorship comes along.

“We’re looking to try to go to the national series, the national level,” he said. “I feel like if you’re not moving, you’re moving backwards.

“I feel like your name can be easily forgotten. We definitely want to make sure we’re still in it. The K&N Pro Series, we’ve had a really great first year, so I feel like it’s time to move up. I always want to go where there’s the best competition so I can learn from them.”

His timeline to reach the Sprint Cup Series is by the age of 22, five years from now.

“That’s every kid’s dream,” Rhodes said. “To get there sooner than later, it would be awesome. But I understand the progress of getting there. I want to be successful at every level I go to.

“And if I’m not successful at the level I go to, then maybe I’m not ready to move up. I don’t want to move up to something where I get destroyed, but I want to move up to something where, if I’m not winning, I’m definitely learning. And then, maybe several races down the road, I’ll be there contending for those wins.”

Rhodes’ driving and personal style is a hybrid of several driver idols that he’s tried to emulate over his career. He quickly mentions the names of Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson as among his biggest influences.

“As far as looking at all of their traits and personalities, I kind of take the best from each one and apply them to my life,” Rhodes said. “Carl Edwards is great with the media and interviews, and so is Brad Keselowski, he’s really good and personable. Jeff Gordon is also pretty good with them.

“You look at Kenseth, he’s really calm on the racetrack. So is Jimmie (Johnson). He’s there when he needs to be. He doesn’t care about getting caught up in it. Whereas some guys like Kyle Busch, they want to lead every lap and be right there. They drive with a sense of desperation.

“I want to take Kyle Busch’s desperation and tune that in with Jimmie Johnson’s calmness so that it’s a perfect mix, and then I want to take all of their media skills and make it the perfect mix. I’m trying to learn from every single one of them and try to be the best I can be.”

And being the best he can be isn’t just on the racetrack. Rhodes is quick to point out that he takes the responsibility of being part of the NASCAR Next class very seriously.

“When I get to meet all the fans, it’s cool, because we’re trying to build the NASCAR fan base back up from the youth level,” he said. “It’s my obligation to grow the sport.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2