Ben Rhodes is a veteran driver of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
At the ripe old age of 21.
Before you know it, he’ll be shouting ‘Get of my lawn!’ to all the incoming rookies.
Admittedly, it’s odd to label Rhodes a veteran when he couldn’t legally buy a beer a couple months ago. But consider this. Since the start of the 2016 season, only three drivers have competed in every CWTS race: Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton…and Ben Rhodes.
“I am a veteran. It’s weird for me to think that, but I am and I understand that,” said Rhodes.
Since entering the series full-time, Rhodes’ results have progressively improved every season. As a rookie, Rhodes scored just two top-five finishes and placed 14th in the points standings. Last season, he won his first race, recorded six top-fives and nearly advanced to the Championship Four. Through the first four races of 2018, Rhodes already has two four-place finishes, sits fourth in points, and currently leads the series in laps led.
“I have seen how much I have grown from the first year,” he says. “Looking back, it is pretty amazing for me to see that growth and development and the experience I have at all of these race tracks. I remember back to my very first year, the rookie year, how difficult everything was. Now everything has slowed down.”
For those who compete against him, Rhodes’ improvement is obvious. Two-time series champion Matt Crafton is Rhodes’ teammate at ThorSport Racing. If anyone knows the key to success and longevity in NASCAR, it’s him. A truck series staple since 2000, Crafton has started 411 straight races. In Rhodes, Crafton sees a completely different driver than the one who arrived at ThorSport in 2016.
“He’s been night and day different just to race around and be around,” says Crafton. “He’s learned a lot. We definitely had a difference of opinions and understandings on things, but he has finally come to.
“He’s become not just a fast race car driver, he’s a smart race car driver. I’ve always told him, to win races you have to be there at the end. He’s taken that into account. The first year, he tore up just about everything the team had plus a few more. Last year, he definitely got a lot better and this year he’s putting it all back together again.”
Crafton’s influence on Rhodes goes beyond just taking care of equipment. Their relationship has prompted Rhodes to embrace the dynamic of teammates, something that didn’t always come easy for him.
“I’ll be honest, in the past I’ve always disliked having teammates,” says Rhodes. “It goes back to that old saying that you race each other harder and you’re competing against your teammates harder than anybody else. But with Matt, we’re working together. And it’s the way it should be. I feel like I’ve had that for the first time and it’s fun.
“Our haulers are parked right next to each other. As soon as we get out, we’ll talk to one another. That’s how a relationship at a team like this should be. I’ve never had that relationship anywhere else in my whole career.”
Ultimately, Rhodes’ career is still in its infancy. He acknowledges there’s still a lot to learn, but the strides he has made are reflected in his performance on the track. The goal is to win a championship this year. Rhodes’ maturation makes that possible.
“It’s still really tough and I feel like I’m operating with a small margin of error,” says Rhodes. “But I’ve gotten good at understanding that margin of error and how to work with it.”