INSIGHT: How Ben Kennedy swapped the cockpit for NASCAR’s convention room


Ben Kennedy gave up the adrenaline rush that comes with being a NASCAR driver just a few years in the past. When transferring to the game’s enterprise facet, Kennedy initially went by the weirdness of being on the racetrack as an official as an alternative of a driver. By now although, Kennedy has discovered a neat facet in his function as NASCAR vp of racing growth.

“It’s possible you’ll not have that adrenaline rush that you’ve while you’re coming to the inexperienced flag or working facet by facet with different drivers,” Kennedy says, “however you continue to get that aggressive facet of wanting (issues) to be higher, to enhance our sport, have it proceed to develop.”

Kennedy began as the final supervisor of the Tenting World Truck Collection in 2018. Final 12 months, he was promoted to his present title, which incorporates overseeing strategic racing growth initiatives for all three collection.

A part of Kennedy’s duties places his concentrate on schedules and worldwide growth. With the 2021 schedules accomplished and introduced, Kennedy is engaged on extra schedules. Which means state of affairs planning for this season, and looking forward to 2022. On the worldwide facet, it’s about persevering with to interact and develop the NASCAR presence with its collection in Canada, Mexico, and Europe. On the unique 2020 schedule, NASCAR was to have raced in 10 completely different nations.

“It’s fairly cool to see the footprint that we’ve got and our present territories, simply the variety of followers and the expansion over the previous couple of years,” Kennedy says. “You exit to Manufacturers Hatch (in the UK) and a few of these tracks, and you’ve got 40 to 50,000 followers exhibiting up for a NASCAR race. So, it’s actually good to see the fan base has expanded additional than the U.S. borders.”

However meaning eager about future worldwide growth plans. Kennedy believes automobile tradition is worldwide, and it’s already been talked about that NASCAR is taking a look at China as the subsequent potential cease. Brazil, the Center East, and Africa may be locations to discover alternatives for a brand new fan base.

Because the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Invoice France Sr., the game is in Kennedy’s blood, and he’s at all times been engaged in its goings-on. However nowadays, he admits it’s truthful to say he’s much more engaged, concerned, and targeted due to his function. He’s additionally discovered a lot about its ins and outs, like how a lot observe presidents and operators deal with.

“I believe I felt like I understood loads about our sport after I was on the racing facet, however the previous few years has been eye-opening to me in simply how broad and what number of completely different areas our sport touches,” Kennedy says. “It makes it difficult, however enjoyable on the similar time. “

Kennedy stories on to NASCAR president Steve Phelps, however works intently with Steve O’Donnell and others. O’Donnell, the manager senior vp and chief racing growth officer, has been a terrific function mannequin and mentor, admits Kennedy. And O’Donnell’s efficiency evaluate of Kennedy encompasses a huge thumbs-up.

“I believe it’s extra in simply seeing his progress,” says O’Donnell. “For those who go to when Ben began, we have been on the lookout for what’s a superb entry-level function to come back in round one thing he was acquainted, and we selected to place him answerable for serving to on the Truck Collection. Our first assembly, we talked about Ilmor engines, and we wished to get perspective from all of the workforce homeowners. This was like a Tuesday, and we mentioned all proper, let’s exit and discuss to a few of them, and we’ll get again collectively Thursday.

“So, Thursday, Ben had visited I believe 15 outlets, met with each single workforce proprietor, had a full report, and it was type of a ‘wow’ second that he’s going to go and get stuff finished. That was our first introduction to him working facet by facet with of us on the R&D Middle. From there, he was once somebody who got here into a gathering considerably shy to supply his opinion, a extremely good listener, actually onerous employee. As he’s developed over the past 12 months, type of taking over the schedule mission, not afraid to talk up and be uncovered to each stakeholder, and we’ve seen him develop and achieve much more confidence in himself.”

As a former driver, Kennedy is used to media obligations and being in entrance of the digital camera. Not a lot has modified now that he’s on the opposite facet of the fence, besides Kennedy speaks to the media on behalf of the game concerning particular bulletins and explaining choices. His voice is now certainly one of authority.

Which means he has to do the analysis wanted to know what he’s speaking about, and be prepared for no matter curveballs get thrown his means.

“He’s good sufficient to know what he doesn’t know, and isn’t afraid to ask questions,” says O’Donnell.

One other anecdote O’Donnell shares about Kennedy is from final season. The COVID-19 pandemic required many conversations and work forwards and backwards with the racetracks. It went from O’Donnell, Kennedy, and another person on the calls to Kennedy reaching out and dealing with issues independently.

“Once we merged two firms (NASCAR and ISC), he is aware of your complete gameboard and isn’t afraid to strategy individuals and get solutions rapidly,” says O’Donnell. “I believe the subsequent step is continuous to do this outdoors of NASCAR, and he began to do this loads with the tracks.”

Being a former driver additionally offers Kennedy a perspective of what it’s like contained in the storage. Not solely is {that a} power he brings to the job, however O’Donnell additionally believes it provides credibility when Kennedy is speaking to drivers. Being an proprietor on the regional degree with Ben Kennedy Racing within the ARCA Menards Collection and working a late mannequin helps him perceive the fee perspective and the significance of sponsorships and companions.

In the case of the nationwide ranges, “it’s the identical issues, simply on a bigger scale of with the ability to run these companies and ensure they’re sustainable,” explains O’Donnell. “He’s acquired a variety of that background; the secret’s for him to proceed to get outdoors of NASCAR, develop these relationships with the business. All of them respect him, he’s acquired nice fashion, so I’m not nervous about that in any respect.

“The most important factor for him is to encompass himself with good individuals however individuals who aren’t afraid to disagree with him and have an opinion, and he’s a sensible sufficient man to take all that info and in the end make a name.”

Kennedy feels most snug talking up with regards to the competitors facet of issues. Contemplating his final identify, many most likely felt it an obligation to take heed to Kennedy’s enter, however after just a few years on the job, Kennedy appears like an equal due to what he can convey to the desk. O’Donnell has by no means seen Kennedy use his final identify as a means of leveraging energy.

“You wouldn’t know who he’s, and I believe that’s one thing that’s actually to be revered,” O’Donnell says.

O’Donnell describes Kennedy as even-keeled – however says don’t misunderstand that for somebody who isn’t passionate – whereas these on the R&D Middle will say that Kennedy is humble and hardworking.

A current and new agenda merchandise Kennedy has taken on includes NASCAR technique and what that can appear like going ahead. Working alongside Phelps and all the game’s government vice presidents, the short-term focus is on learn how to get by the subsequent six to 12 months and what protocols will appear like for each followers and rivals. What Kennedy is happy about and looking out ahead to, what offers him a rush, is a 5, 10, and 15-year plan for the game.

“The Subsequent Gen automobile and the schedule for ’21 and beginning to consider ’22,” says Kennedy. “The following-gen fan expertise. Actually working with all of the completely different mission leaders in that space and making an attempt to be a superb useful resource and spine to essentially tie all of it collectively on the finish of the day and what our sport seems to be like going ahead.

“It’s actually a enjoyable time to be on this facet and on this place in our sport.”

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