For Louisville native Ben Rhodes, Thursday was a storybook ending at Kentucky Speedway
Actually, it was even better.
Rhodes pulled away from Stewart Friesen in the closing laps to win the Buckle Up in Your Truck 225, his second career win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
But this win was different. For a guy who grew up just an hour away and raced at Kentucky Speedway since he was a kid, pulling into victory lane Thursday night meant everything.
“Still no words. This is just unbelievable,” said Rhodes. “This is a dream come true. This is the closest thing to a dream turning into a reality for me.
“Everything went right. I don’t think I could think of a more perfect scenario.”
Rhodes was running second and trailed Friesen by more than two seconds with about 25 laps to go with a pit stop still to make. Friesen made his way to pit road for two tires and stalled the truck on his way out. Rhodes made his stop a few laps later, but crew chief Eddie Traconis made the call to go with fuel only to try and gain time on Friesen.
The gamble worked. Rhodes was able to get back on the track ahead of Friesen and held him off the final 20 laps.
“Coming down pit road, the stall right in front of me was on fire,” said Rhodes. “I almost missed my pit box. It was just an unbelievable call by those guys. It was crazy because so much stuff could go wrong and everything went right tonight.
“Clean air was so important. I think (Friesen) was just a little bit faster than me at the end. We were able to hold him off and we eventually gapped him at the end of the race. He couldn’t keep up with us and that was so cool.”
Rhodes’ No. 41 Carolina Nut Company Ford was strong all race long. He won stage one, stayed in the top five all night, and could not be caught once he took the lead. However, Rhodes admitted the closing laps were absolutely agonizing.
“Those last 10 laps were the longest of my life,” he says. “It felt like I was living my entire life from birth until now. That’s how long it felt like it took. I can’t thank everybody enough. I just don’t have words.”
With the victory, Rhodes is locked into the CWTS playoffs, which is huge considering he was on the playoff bubble prior to Thursday’s race.
“I am (in the playoffs). Wow. Look at that!” said Rhodes. “It keeps getting better. Four trophies, I’m in the playoffs, won at the home track. This is a night I’m not going to forget. I think this is even better than my first one. And my first win was pretty darn sweet.”
The celebration in victory lane was emotional for more reasons than just winning the race. Rhodes carried the name of Louisville Metro Officer Nick Rodman, who was killed in the line of duty last year, on the top of his truck. Rodman’s parents watched the race on pit road with Rhodes’ team. Rhodes and Rodman’s father, George, shared a long embrace in victory lane.
“It was the most emotional hug of the night and it just meant so much,” says Rhodes. “I’m so glad they were here and so glad we had him on the truck. This is just something so special and for us to do it all together, no words for that.
“This race is dedicated to Officer Nick Rodman and it’s just so special.”
On top of winning at his home track, Rhodes accomplished another feat Thursday night. He is the first Kentucky native to win a race in Sparta.
“Has that happened? Has that ever happened?” Rhodes joked. “When is the last time a Kentucky guy ever won at Kentucky? I don’t have words for it. It’s surreal.”