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Life in the fast lane takes on new meaning for Ben Kennedy

CONCORD, N.C. – His driver’s suit has been put away, but Ben Kennedy hasn’t stopped racing.

No surprise there. The great-grandson of NASCAR founder William H.G. France continues to work his way up the corporate ladder, absorbing as much as he can along the way.

Kennedy recently was named Managing Director of Racing Operations and International Development. It’s a title that encompasses a lot but focuses on competition-related issues in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. The international portion means he’ll be diving into NASCAR’s efforts in Canada, Mexico, Europe and elsewhere.

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Although he’s grown up in NASCAR, it’s still a bit of a culture change for the 27-year-old who spent several years looking at the sport through the windshield of a race car. His last stint behind the wheel came in 2017.

Kennedy won twice in 42 starts in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, picked up a victory in the Truck Series where he made 73 starts, and managed one top-five finish in 17 Xfinity Series attempts.

“I enjoyed it; I was very passionate about it,” Kennedy says of his driving career. “I learned a ton but it just kind of felt like the right time for me to make the move. I thought about it for several months; it definitely wasn’t an overnight decision.

“I just made the leap of faith. I’ve always been passionate about the business side of motorsports, specifically NASCAR.”

Kennedy, son of International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy, spent the ’18 season as general manager of the Truck Series, working with series director Brad Moran and his team.

He remains a team owner, with Ben Kennedy Racing fielding Late Model entries as well as those in the K&N Series. The group’s 2019 driver lineup consists of Daniel Dye and Anthony Sergi. It’s his lone remaining tie to that side of the sport.

“He’s obviously grown up in the sport and he’s been behind the wheel, so when he took the step to jump outside the car and … work at the (NASCAR) R&D Center, I’m sure that came with some question marks about ‘What do I do and how do I do it?,'” said Steve O’Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer for the sanctioning body.

“He jumped in and did an incredible job with the Truck Series … and he wants to grow and learn as much as possible. He’ll continue to learn the ins and outs of the business, but also have some ownership of a number of key projects. Part of that will be as we look to expand our presence internationally. Ben’s been a key asset in that.”

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There’s no lack of things to keep him busy as Kennedy becomes an integral part of the overall NASCAR leadership team. There’s work to be done on upcoming schedules — the 2021 season could see a major shift in venues and/or dates — NASCAR hopes to roll out the new Generation-7 car by the start of the 2021 season, “and you have charters, sanctions, all that going on,” Kennedy said.

“With (NASCAR President) Steve Phelps and Jim (France, CEO) in office, it’s neat to see the momentum and energy we have internally to help continue to drive the sport forward. There’s a lot on our plate, a lot of exciting things, too.”

Some of those exciting things is talk of schedule changes, whether dates or venues — typical hot-stove fare for offseason conversations.

Since 2012, the Xfinity Series schedule has consisted of 33 points races. The 35-race schedule from 2005-10 was the most in series history.

The Truck Series schedule has consisted of 23 points events since 2015. It’s featured as many as 27 races, in 1998, and as few as 20 for the inaugural 1995 season.

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Now, Kennedy is on the front lines for these discussions.

“We looked at it for both series, and landed on the current schedule,” Kennedy said. “It feels like the right number to us. Twenty-three (for Trucks) isn’t as much as the Cup schedule, but it’s still a decent amount and it’s spread out enough that it gives some of the teams, especially some of the smaller teams, an opportunity to catch their breath and get back up to speed on inventory.

“We’re always looking at the number of events and the places we go … it’s always on the table. We’re in a lot of really neat markets right now but we’re always looking at new opportunities out there.”