DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ben Kennedy may one day be in charge of NASCAR.
If that happened, it wouldn’t be a crony situation. Yes, he’s the great-grandson of the NASCAR founder, but the 31-year-old graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in sports management and has spent his life studying the family business.
There was once a little boy who came to the hidden hot dog stand Bill France Jr with his grandfather. Installed inside the Daytona International Speedway, Kennedy grew up and eventually had to work for that snack bar. He’s sold shows, parked cars, driven trucks that emptied RV trash, and worked at a sign shop.
Kennedy took the plunge as a driver, entering 90 NASCAR races at the national level. In 2016, he took victory in the Truck Series at Bristol and ran a full season that year, finishing seventh in the standings.
But he’s also seen as the future leader of NASCAR, which is celebrating its 75th season this year. NASCAR is currently run by his 78-year-old uncle, chairman Jim France, and executive vice-chairman mother Lesa France Kennedy.
After turning in his fire suit, Kennedy moved into NASCAR’s operations department, where he currently serves as senior vice president of racing development and strategy. Young, progressive and unafraid to take risks, his return to action this weekend will always be a landmark moment in his young career.
Kennedy floated the idea of bringing NASCAR’s unofficial season-opening exhibition race to Los Angeles, where the iconic stadium is converted into a makeshift short track for racing. For the Los Angeles audience, which has no shortage of entertainment options, it could be a disaster of bad racing, poor track conditions or snooze.
But it worked out, and Kennedy, largely the architect of NASCAR’s schedule for the most recent season, put the conflict back in the stadium this Sunday. Repeat the show. Actor Rob Lowe will play the Grand Marshal, Cypress Hill will host a pregame concert and Wiz Khalifa will perform at halftime.
“The stadium is a huge risk for us. There are too many questions, too many uncertainties, and frankly, I’m not sure,” Kennedy accepted at NASCAR’s headquarters overlooking Daytona International Speedway. said in an interview with the Associated Press. “We know as much as we can, but we don’t know what the game will look like until we put the cars on the makeshift track inside the football stadium.”
Kennedy had a list of dreams he wanted to play in NASCAR. For now, he’s content to be back in the gym warming up for the Feb. 2 game. 19 Season Opening Daytona 500.
“I think last year was a huge success on many metrics. So it was hard for us to say ‘hey, that was a really big success, now we’re going to do something else,'” Kennedy said. “I think this year will be very convincing because last year was new and different, with a lot of novel concepts that got a lot of people talking.
“I think we at NASCAR have a responsibility to make it so that when the fans come out or tune in, this year is just as good, if not better, than last year.”
Kennedy didn’t exactly need to prove himself to NASCAR’s board of directors, but after completing the Clash program, he quickly pushed forward with staging a Cup Series on the streets of downtown Chicago. The once outlandish idea is now scheduled for July 2 for a series of oval tracks that have traditionally stuck to banked turns.
“I would say a lot of the conversations in Chicago really started to heat up after the conflict,” Kennedy said, dismissing speculation that the race would lose and pointing to the good relationship with the mayor’s office and other city agencies.
“What we’ve been focusing on is that this is new to NASCAR. This is new to the city of Chicago, and we’re really trying to help everyone understand what that’s going to be like,” he said. “We want this to be a success for NASCAR, but even more so for Chicago, and it’s something Chicagoans can look forward to.”
It seemed inevitable that Kennedy would soon be hosting the entire show. Steve Phelps is NASCAR’s current president and the third non-French family member to hold the post in 75 years; Steve O’Donnell is currently in charge of the race.
Kennedy did not believe his future was predetermined.
“I don’t think it’s inevitable for me, and I keep telling Steve, Steve and my family: ‘I want to earn credit along the way. The last thing I want to do is be put in a position that’s not good for the company position, and those around us were placed in a position that I was not capable of,” Kennedy said. “Whatever that position or promotion looks like, I want to focus on deserving it. That’s really important to me. I think it earns me a little bit of respect. It makes it more meaningful.
“Will I end up there? I don’t know. But I have to do a good job to earn that right.”
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