Jeff Zelevansky | Getty Images
Jeff Zelevansky | Getty Images

From gridiron glory to a pit-box perch: Inside Ben Beshore’s path to becoming Kyle Busch’s crew chief

Ben Beshore, the crew chief tasked with helping to rejuvenate one of NASCAR’s top teams, has a richer history of winning than most might know about — that is, unless you were tuned into southern Pennsylvania’s youth sports scene 20-some years ago.

Beshore spent many a grade-school summer Saturday harvesting checkered flags in go-karts at Hunterstown Speedway in Gettysburg. As his high school days wound down, he sharpened his focus on football Friday nights in the fall, scoring a conference-high 22 touchdowns as a durable running back his senior year, helping Central York barrel to an unbeaten championship season.

“That was a lot of fun,” Beshore says now with a laugh, “but I definitely pay for it when I wake up in the morning now, close to 40.”

Now 39 and well removed from his gridiron glory days, the spotlight will hit Beshore in a different arena next year as the longtime engineer and car chief moves to crew-chief duties for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota team and two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch. The jump to NASCAR’s top division comes after a successful four-win season in the Xfinity Series with Rookie of the Year Harrison Burton, but it also marks the culmination of a long path to the top of a major-league pit box.

RELATED: JGR shakes up crew chiefs | 2021 Cup Series schedule

That goal stems from deep roots, both in racing and other sports. Besides Beshore’s go-kart and football success, his cousin, R.J., was an all-conference soccer player in high school. And his family tree also includes Freddie Beshore (“I think he would’ve been my grandfather’s cousin,” Beshore says), a journeyman heavyweight boxer who had the distinction of facing Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano in the same year (1951).

Closer to home, Beshore’s father, Michael, and uncle Richard had raced in motocross growing up, with his dad branching out to flat-track motorcycle racing. Their day jobs were in construction, and the excavation business Beshore’s uncle owned led to the carving of a 1/8-mile dirt oval on the family’s 230-acre farm for the young sons.

“We would run tons and tons of laps, and then when we went to an actual go-kart race, like a sanctioned race, I think I was 8 or 9, I had thousands of laps of practice,” Beshore says. “Those kids were only running like 30 laps a week, so I had a pretty big practice advantage on them. That’s how we kind of got started.”

Beshore stayed with it. He supplemented his mechanical engineering coursework at Virginia Tech by working summers at a local speed shop back home and some part-time driving in a street-stock class at Lincoln Speedway in nearby Abbottstown.

“I was just trying to get as much experience on the real-life car side rather than being stuck in the books,” Beshore says. “I just tried to get as much racing experience as I could in college. Once I graduated, I really didn’t have anything lined up. I just moved to Charlotte and knocked on doors until I got something to stick.”

His graduation dovetailed with a technology boom in NASCAR, where engineering degrees were beginning to become must-haves for team rosters. Short-term jobs eventually led to steadier employment as a car chief and engineer with the former Brewco Motorsports team in the Xfinity Series. R.J. Beshore landed there, too, as a mechanic. Their race-day duties included over-the-wall detail — Ben as the rear-tire carrier with R.J. doing the same work up front.

Even back then, a position for Ben Beshore as a team leader seemed like an eventual destination. Brewco crew chief Newt Moore prophetically told the York (Pa.) Daily Record in 2006 that as a car chief, “he would run the offense for us, no doubt. Ben has stepped up into that spot. We tried two or three others, and they failed. His work ethic, mental makeup and mechanical engineering background give him a leg up. This is the next step up toward becoming crew chief, and he has all the expertise to be a crew chief someday.”

Someday eventually came, after stints at Roush Fenway Racing and later JGR, where he started as a race engineer for the No. 18 team during Busch’s first championship season in 2015. Beshore remained mostly behind the scenes, save for a three-race stint as an interim crew chief for Busch during the 2017 season, when Adam Stevens was briefly suspended for a safety violation. Busch went 3-for-3 in top-10 finishes on Beshore’s watch, adding a pole position at Pocono Raceway in his crew-chief debut.

It’s potentially part of the reason Beshore was poised for a regular crew-chief role with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity Series program in 2019, when a rotating cast of seven drivers split time in the No. 18 Toyota’s seat. That first season, which Beshore admits was “kind of a blur” as he got more accustomed to the transition from Cup to Xfinity, yielded four victories — all from Busch.

The celebrations helped cement their partnership, which will grow to a driver-crew chief pairing full-time next year.

“If it wasn’t for some mechanical issues, we might’ve won even more of those races, but I feel like our relationship’s really good,” Beshore says. “We have a lot of respect and obviously the success that we had in the past together sort of breeds that respect, so I think it’s really strong there.”

The final primer for Beshore’s big-league call-up came earlier this year, when he shifted to JGR’s No. 20 team for a full-season campaign paired with Burton, who was just 19 years old when the season began. When the COVID-19 outbreak paused the season in March, scrapping weekly practice and qualifying sessions upon racing’s return two months later, Burton’s ability to gain experience suffered. But the seat-time deficit only briefly hindered the performance, as the second-generation prospect netted four victories, including a powerful finish with back-to-back wins just before the season finale.

MORE: Burton returning to JGR in 2021

Cue Beshore’s Cup Series arrival, a move that came amid sweeping changes for JGR’s driver-crew chief lineup after last season. The centerpiece was the splitting up of Busch and Stevens, who had amassed two championships and 28 wins during their six years together. But their final campaign was one of prolonged frustration for Busch, who went agonizingly winless until a late-hour triumph at Texas Motor Speedway in the 34th race of the season.

Even after the Lone Star State victory, Stevens was candid about the potential for a looming shift in his roles, noting that stock-car racing remains a performance-based business. Stevens will move to JGR’s No. 20 Cup Series team to work with Christopher Bell next year, and Beshore will be back at home with the No. 18 group, but this time as a Cup Series rookie in the crew-chief slot.

RELATED: Key figures in Silly Season

The opportunity to work closely again with a sure-fire Hall of Famer in Busch is an enticing but daunting one. The major question remains: What needs fixing to return Busch and the team back to their competitive peak?

“It’s sort of hard to pinpoint, to be honest,” Beshore says. “Their Texas weekend was obviously a good blueprint for how to do it. They had an extremely fast car, Kyle did a great job, Adam did a great job on the strategy when it turned into a fuel-mileage situation a little bit. … I think that’s a good blueprint for building off of next year. If we can just look at that and some of the better runs that they’ve had, see what worked and what didn’t, and take the good and weed out the bad, then try to connect the dots to do that more often.”

Beshore says he doesn’t intend to set a win-total target for 2021, but returning Busch to Championship 4 form for the Phoenix finale is “a huge goal.” He’ll be aiming for that alongside his cousin, R.J., who serves as the lead setup mechanic for JGR’s No. 11 team and driver Denny Hamlin.

But even as he nears a milestone birthday with the lingering football aches and pains that accompany it, Beshore says his approaching career milestone has been the result of a worthwhile journey.

“My goal for sure was to become a crew chief,” Beshore says. “It’s not easy. There’s a lot of good people in the sport, so it took a little longer than I wanted it to, but that for sure was my end goal.”