Sense of history, home for Kennedy at Bowman Gray
June 02, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It was miles away from his native stomping grounds of Daytona Beach, but somehow Bowman Gray Stadium felt like home to Ben Kennedy.
Maybe it’s because his great-grandfather, Bill France Sr., helped promote stock-car races at the hallowed quarter-mile facility in the sport’s infancy, laying the groundwork at what remains NASCAR’s longest-running weekly track. Maybe it was the sight of his mother, Lesa France Kennedy, alternately crying with joy and bouncing with excitement after her son’s come-from-behind win.
Whatever the reason, Kennedy’s second victory of the season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East was one to savor Saturday night as he picked his way through a tightly knit field in the NASCAR Hall of Fame 150. Having his mom and uncle Jim France, himself fresh in from Saturday’s GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series race in Detroit, on hand made it even more satisfying.
“It was really something special because she hadn’t seen me in Victory Lane in years,” said Kennedy, who splits his racing career with schoolwork at the University of Florida. “... It was really special to see her and see the tears of joy just coming down her face. She’s my best friend, and it was so cool to see her down in Victory Lane with us."
NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. conducts a drivers' meeting prior to a NASCAR race in 1951 at Bowman Gray Stadium. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)
"I’m a mom, so I’m biased, but I have to tell you in looking at it that he was very, very measured and methodical."
-- Lesa France Kennedy
As for his mother, the sense of history and family was palpable. She celebrated in the city where her parents first locked eyes and on the track where King Richard Petty scored his 100th career victory. Saturday night, it was her son adding another chapter to the track’s 65 seasons of heritage.
“The history of this track goes back decades and decades. I’m just so pleased,” Lesa France Kennedy said. “I know our whole family is so excited because Ben really wanted this for every reason, but for a very specific reason. This is beyond special.”
Besides the sentimental value, Kennedy’s victory also ranked high on the degree of difficulty scale. He started 10th in the 22-car field and had 150 laps to work his way to the front on a snug, flat track where passing opportunities are scarce and well-earned.
By the halfway point, he’d maneuvered to sixth and moved up spot-by-spot, continuing after his late involvement in a 108th-lap crash with Dylan Kwasniewski and others caved in his right-side door panel. Kennedy, who made the most of the restarts after each of the race’s 13 caution periods, jumped up to second place just seven laps later, filing in behind pole winner and early dominator Brett Moffitt.
But a fading Moffitt gave way with battery trouble in the 124th lap, giving Kennedy the opening he needed.
“We were just trying to keep the fenders on it,” Kennedy said. “We had a couple of fender-benders here and there, but just kept digging through. Kept all four wheels afloat and thankfully didn’t pop any. We just tried to get restarts on the inside (lane) as much as we could, trying to put a little bit of strategy into it. It worked out for us.”
The inherent bumps and bruises of racing at Bowman Gray made for plenty of heart-stopping moments for his cheering section from Florida, watching anxiously from the press box.
“I’m a mom, so I’m biased, but I have to tell you in looking at it that he was very, very measured and methodical,” Lesa France Kennedy said. “He keeps a pretty cool head when it comes to racing.”
Once past Moffitt, Kennedy was still far from a sure thing. Reigning K&N Pro Series West champion Kwasniewski charged dramatically through the field after his late setback, hounding Kennedy for the final stretch.
After Kwasniewski drifted high on a pass attempt in the penultimate lap, Kennedy finally had room to breathe. After taking the checkered flag, he was joined by his jubilant family at the start-finish line. Once the hugs and tears had subsided, a mother-son fist bump capped another storied night at the track long billed as “still the most exciting of them all.”
“It truly is phenomenal,” Kennedy said. “I just can’t thank everyone enough.”
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