From These Beginnings Came These Racers

Ben Rhodes

Ben Rhodes got his start in racing with a dirt go-kart and admits he wanted to quit after the first race. (Photo: Getty Images)

It started in different ways. For one it was playing with Matchbox cars and making car noises. For another, it was seeing a grandfather’s pictures drag racing. And for one of NASCAR’s hottest drivers, their interest in racing began after their parents bought a dirt go-kart from a friend.

Just as drivers come from different places, their beginnings can be varied as well.

Ben Rhodes, who leads the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standings by more than a race heading into Saturday’s event at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway, got his start with the dirt go-kart.

That dirt go-kart spent more time in the family garage the first couple of years the family owned it. Rhodes and his older brother ran it around the house a couple of times but it wasn’t until Rhodes’ older brother asked to race a go-kart that the sport became a focus.

“My dad presented me with the same opportunity,’’ Rhodes said. “Do you want to do it?’’

“Yeah!’’ Rhodes said.

His excitement waned after that first race, though.

“I wanted to quit,’’ Rhodes said. “I got run over by the leader. He ran over the top of my kart. He was pinned on top of me. I got multiple laps down my first race. I thought, this was horrible. I wanted to quit but I didn’t say anything to my dad because he just bought a new go-kart. I was scared of what to tell him. So I did it for a couple of weeks and got the hang of it.’’

From that the 17-year-old Rhodes has gone on to win five of the first 10 races in the K&N Pro Series East series this season. He also finished eighth in his Camping World Truck Series debut in March at Martinsville Speedway.

Truck driver Erik Jones’ introduction into racing began a different way.

“It really just started from a liking of cars, 3, 4 years old just always making car noises, running around with Matchbox cars,’’ said Jones, the youngest winner in Truck series history.

“My mom actually read an article about quarter midgets for kids and took it to my dad. We ended up getting a quarter midget and it’s something that took off from there.’’

Jones scored his second career Truck win last week at Iowa Speedway for Kyle Busch Motorsports. The 18-year-old makes his Nationwide debut this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Ryan Gifford’s racing interest was sparked by his grandfather, who competed in drag racing.

Gifford, 25,  wanted a junior dragster when he was 8 years old to follow his grandfather. His grandfather had other plans.

“He took me to the go-kart track because it was closer to home and I instantly fell in love with it,’’ said Gifford, who competes in the K&N Pro Series East series.

Racing came naturally for 23-year-old Ryan Preece, last year’s champion in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. A grandfather built modifieds, another sponsored cars and his dad raced.

“When I was about 5 years old, I got into quarter midgets and have been going ever since,’’ Preece said.

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