Kennedy feels right at home on Daytona track
January 13, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Ben Kennedy has endured Florida's blazing summer heat parking cars in the Daytona International Speedway grass lots and spent hours after a race picking up trash in the massive grandstands.
As mother Lesa France Kennedy helped run the family business across the street, a school-age Ben interacted with NASCAR fans while working the pit crew exhibit at the former Daytona USA attraction. And he's been trackside one way or another for every Daytona 500 since he was born in December 1991.
On Monday, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.'s great grandson turned his first "official" laps on his family's beloved Daytona 2.5-mile high-banks -- even posting the fastest lap (182.168 mph) of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' opening Preseason Thunder test session that morning.
"This is actually my first time driving around here in a race car," a smiling Kennedy said during a lunch break Monday. "I've been around here riding in a DP (sports car prototype) and in a pace car. But to actually be able to drive around here in an actual (NASCAR) race car is something really cool."
Kennedy posted the second fastest time (190.925 mph) in the afternoon session behind Turner Scott Motorsports teammate Jeb Burton.
After winning twice last year in NASCAR's K&N Pro Series East, the 22-year-old Kennedy will make his sixth national series start and Daytona debut in the Feb. 21 Truck Series opener driving the No. 31 Chevrolet Silverado for Turner Scott Motorsports.
It will be the first time a member of the France family -- Kennedy's mother is International Speedway Corporation's CEO -- has competed in a NASCAR national series race at Daytona.
"It was cool doing all the different things," Kennedy said, recalling in detail all the jobs his mother insisted he try. "It was kinda neat figuring out where I'm strong at or where I don't want to get involved too much. I still remember I made a sign for the flag stand in the decal shop one year … stuff like that got me really excited.
"I sort of know the background stuff and I think it has helped me understand the sport better."
In addition to a full season campaigning for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the Truck Series, Kennedy is preparing to graduate with a degree in sports management from the University of Florida in May.
And Kennedy is still expanding his skill set, currently spending his last semester as a Gator with an internship in the NBC Sports communications office in Stamford, Conn., where he is maintaining a 9-to-5 existence working out of a cubicle, assembling news clippings and preparing to help out behind the scenes with NBC's Winter Olympics coverage. He just found out this week that a break in his Truck Series racing schedule will afford him the opportunity to walk in his graduation ceremony.
Despite his pedigree, Kennedy seemingly operates under the radar, putting on no airs. Sure, he has the luxury of a few family friends -- Carl Edwards and Bill Elliott, for example -- to call on for driving advice. But other than a group of photographers snapping his photo and a steady line of reporters waiting for interviews at his team's hauler Monday, Kennedy comes across as just "one of the guys."
"Man, Ben is a great guy," said Burton, the son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton. "He's really cool, down to earth. I look forward to working with him. He's going to be really good this year I feel like. He's learning a lot every week, and the races he ran last year has just built him for this year. He's going to be a good teammate for Turner Scott Motorsports."
And that's high praise as far as Kennedy is concerned.
"Racing's in my blood right now and I want to do the most I can," Kennedy said. "To learn as much as I can and try to make a career out of it, take all the steps I can and do it in the right manner and see if something comes out of it.
"I'm born and raised in Daytona. Most of my life I've never lived farther than a 10-15 minute drive from the race track. Daytona is my home track. To actually be able to race here after being around the track after so many years and doing so many things … to see it all come along, and now have this opportunity to race here, it's awesome."