Column: Kennedy takes bold risks with NASCAR family business

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ben Kennedy may one day be in charge of NASCAR.

If that happens, it’s not a case of nepotism. Yes, he’s the great-grandson of his NASCAR founder, but the 31-year-old graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in sports management and has spent his entire life learning the family business.

When a little boy tagged along with his grandfather to the hidden hot dog stand Bill France Jr. set up inside the Daytona International Speedway, Kennedy grew up and eventually had to staff that snack shack. I didn’t. He sold programs, parked cars, drove trucks to empty trash from campers, and worked signage in his shop.

Kennedy tried it as a driver, participating in 90 races at the national level in NASCAR. He won the Truck Series race at Bristol in his 2016 and ran the full season that year, finishing 7th in the rankings.

But he’s also seen as a future leader in NASCAR, which is entering its 75th season this year. NASCAR is now run by his 78-year-old uncle, chairman Jim France, and his mother, vice chairman Lesa France Kennedy.

Once in firefighting gear, Kennedy moved into NASCAR operations, where he currently serves as senior vice president of race development and strategy. He’s young, progressive, and unafraid to gamble, and he’s back this weekend for a moment that will forever mark the end of his young career.

It was Kennedy who came up with the idea of ​​bringing NASCAR’s unofficial season-opening exhibition race to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, the iconic Coliseum transforms into a temporary short his track for stock car racing. For the Los Angeles crowd, who aren’t short on entertainment options, it could have been a disaster of a terrible race, poor track conditions, or a snoozefest.

But it worked, and Kennedy, chiefly the designer of NASCAR’s latest full-season schedule, returned Crash to the Coliseum this Sunday. for repeat performances. Actor Rob Lowe will be his grand marshal, Cypress Hill will perform the pre-race concert, and Wizhi Khalifa will perform at halftime.

“For us, the Coliseum was a huge risk. But we didn’t know what the race would be like until we put the cars on the temporary circuit inside the football stadium.”

Kennedy has a dream list of places he wants to go in NASCAR. For now, he’s content to return to the Coliseum as a warm-up for his Daytona 500, which starts on February 19th.

“I think last year was a huge success by a lot of metrics, so it was very difficult for us to say, ‘This was a really big success, let’s do something different this time,'” Kennedy said. “Last year was new and different, so I think it’s going to be really meaningful this year. There were a lot of novel concepts that a lot of people were talking about.

“I think it’s up to us at NASCAR to make sure this year is as good or better than last year when the fans get out and watch TV.”

Kennedy didn’t have to prove himself to NASCAR’s board of directors, but after the crash plan was successful, plans to host a Cup Series race on the streets of downtown Chicago moved quickly. The once-outlandish idea is scheduled for July 2nd for a series that has traditionally stuck to an oval track with banked turns.

“I think a lot of the conversation in Chicago really started to pick up steam after the crash,” said Kennedy, dismissing speculation that the race would fail and maintaining good relations with the mayor’s office and other city agencies. mentioned.

“What we continue to see is that this is all new to NASCAR. “We want this to be a success for NASCAR, but we want it to be even more successful for Chicago and something that the people of Chicago can look forward to.”

It seems inevitable that Kennedy will run the entire show soon.Steve Phelps is the current president of NASCAR and the third non-French family member in 75 years. Steve O’Donnell is currently running the competition.

Kennedy does not believe his future is predetermined.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable for me. I tell Steve and Steve and my family this all the time: ‘I want to earn my stripes on the way. , to be put in a position that is not for the betterment of the company, and for those around us to be put in a position for which I am not suitable. I want to be something that deserves to be centered.

“Will I end there? I can’t come up with anything. But you have to do a good job to get that right.”

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