Ben Kennedy was never guaranteed a career as a NASCAR driver.
Yes, Kennedy has connections. He is the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France, the nephew of NASCAR chairman Brian France and the son of Lesa France Kennedy, the CEO of International Speedway Corp.
But before Ben Kennedy ever strapped himself into a NASCAR national series vehicle – in this case a Chevy Silverado in the Truck Series – he had a challenging educational obligation to fulfill.
“My family said, in order for me to keep racing and to stay involved in the competitive side of the sport, that I had to first get a college degree,” Kennedy said. “So that’s what I did. And it was the best four years of my life, without a doubt.”
After earning a degree in sports management at Florida in 2014, Kennedy has already made an impact in the Truck series, winning at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last week and clinching a spot in the Chase. He’ll go for his second victory Saturday in the Careers For Veterans 200 at Michigan International Speedway.
Kennedy, 24, wasn’t entirely away from racing during his time in Gainesville. He kept his hand in the game by competing in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East.
It was always neat to see both -- the driving and business sides -- of the sport.
It wasn’t always easy, knowing there were other young drivers out there racing full-time and gaining valuable experience while Kennedy concentrated on his studies.
“It kind of runs in the back or your mind a little bit,” said Kennedy. “You look back at it as anybody else who becomes successful: would I rather be in their shoes? My answer was always no. I think I’m in the coolest position in life. I got through high school and I’m working on my degree, just like any other kid.”
Kennedy said he wants to play out the driving side of the sport for as long as he can. But he obviously has his eye on the future beyond that, as evidenced by his sports management degree and, of course, his family background. Growing up in Daytona Beach, Fla., he did odd jobs around Daytona International Speedway, the centerpiece of the corporation his mother runs.
Kennedy is the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France.
“It’s cool because it’s always been kind of instilled in me,” said Kennedy, who also served as intern at the NBC Sports Network. “It was always neat to see both -- the driving and business sides -- of the sport.”
Kennedy owns a K&N team, so he’s already putting that degree to use. But he’s more interested now in the driving side of the sport, which received a significant boost last week at Bristol. He was dropped after the third race of the season by Red Horse Racing before moving to GMS Racing.
His victory at Bristol was his first in 63 career starts in the Truck series. He took the lead late in the race, then finished ahead of Brett Moffitt after a restart six laps from the end.
2 Top-10 finishies this season for Kennedy
“I was definitely nervous about it, going back to the restart,” Kennedy said. “It was going to be a six-lap shootout. But that made it better. I’d rather do it that way instead of driving away with it.”
Watching back in Florida was his mom.
“We were glued to the TV,” Lesa France Kennedy told the Florida Times Union. “It was the most nerve-racking thing. I was excited, to say the least.”
The victory at Bristol means Kennedy will be able to compete for in the Truck series inaugural Chase.
“The biggest thing is I can sleep a little better,” Kennedy said. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re always trying for wins, but we can really get a chance to experiment over the next few races. We can put ourselves in more risy situations where we might be a little more vulnerable.”