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Allen Lessels on Motor Sports: Youngsters eye NHMS

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 10. 2014 12:03AM
Eddie MacDonald, seen during a break from July 1 testing sessions at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be back at the track on Friday, aiming to qualify for Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 301. (Bruce Preston/Union Leader)

LOUDON -- The NASCAR driver on the hottest streak coming into a weekend packed with racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway?

Give yourself 20 bonus points is you came up with the name of Ben Rhodes, a 17-year-old out of Louisville, Ky., who is due to start his senior year of high school in a month.

And the busiest driver participating in the Camping World RV Sales 301 Sprint Cup weekend at NHMS?

That honor goes to Ryan Preece, 23, of Berlin, Conn. He’s not only competing in three races at NHMS — the first-ever Whelen Modified Tour All-Star Shootout on Friday and the Whelen Modified Tour Sunoco 100 and NASCAR Nationwide Sta-Green 200 on Saturday — but will zip down to

his home state for a race at Stafford Speedway on Friday night. Note to teachers: Ben Rhodes may be a little late.

“School starts Aug. 11 this year,” Rhodes said. “I have to be there for orientation Aug. 8, but I’m going to be in Watkins Glen racing, so I’ll miss that.”

Preece and Rhodes are both members of the NASCAR Next program that is designed to support young drivers.

Didn’t know the name Ben Rhodes? Chances are you will before long.

He’s won the last four K&N Pro Series East races and takes aim at a record that’s older than he is by several years — and held by a local favorite — in the Granite State 100 on Friday night.

Ricky Craven, these days an ESPN analyst, won five straight races in the series in 1991 en route to his Sprint Cup career.

On Wednesday, NASCAR got the two drivers — who have never met — together via conference call for a chat with the media.

Craven said he has not seen Rhodes drive, but likes what he has heard and learned about him. He also promised to look him up this weekend and wished him luck in his quest for the record.

“The numbers don’t lie,” Craven said. “I do think it’s impressive, certainly more impressive what Ben is doing than what I did back then. And I think it’s mostly because he’s 17 years old, and I think it deserves a lot of attention. It’s what separates him from the crowd.”

Rhodes joked and asked if Craven was going to have his fingers crossed behind his back in hopes of retaining his record.

The veteran, who was racing out of Concord when NHMS opened and grew up with the track, laughed and said not at all.

Rhodes ran a limited K&N Pro Series East schedule last year and one of the races was the September event at NHMS.

He got bumped into the wall early in the race, but recovered and came back to finish fourth.

“I just got us in trouble early on when I was on the outside,” Rhode said. “I ended up getting knocked up to the wall. I think somebody took it three wide on the bottom, so I got pushed up into the wall, but I’ve got to learn to make my own luck and keep myself out of that position, and when you do that, that’s when you run up front, also. You just have to have control of your race weekend, and you have to own it, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do this year and make the most out of every race.”

Preece hopes to take advantage of a bunch of races.

“With four races, it’s four opportunities to run very well,” he said.

He’s looking for his first Whelen Modified tour victory at the track in the Sunoco 100 on Saturday and to improve on his only other Nationwide appearance in the Sta-Green 200 that follows it.

Preece is racing for owner Tommy Baldwin Jr. again in the Nationwide race. Last year, in his Nationwide debut at NHMS, he ran into trouble when he overran his pit box and then ran out of gas with three laps left and finished 24th.

He’s aiming to improve his results.

“To be honest with you, me and Zach and Tommy, we’ve talked about it, and we’re going up there and our goal is to possibly get a top 10,” Preece said. “A lot of people would think that that’s a long shot. But I don’t. I know the amount of work that’s gone into this race car, and Tommy and Zach and all the things we’ve been looking over from last year to this year and what we can improve on and what I can improve on, and I think it’s something realistic.”

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Sprint Cup driver Ryan Newman, who has become a regular in Modified races at NHMS, will do triple duty during the weekend. He’s racing in the Whelen Modified All-Star shootout on Friday, in the Sunoco 100 on Saturday and then the Cup race on Sunday. Newman is eighth in points in the Cup series, but does not yet have a win. ... Andy Seuss of Hampstead is entered in the Shootout and in Saturday’s Modified race. Seuss has 18 career wins on the Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Three of the wins have come this year and he leads the point standings in the series. ... The Shootout is a 40-lap event with a pair of 20-lap segments. ... Recycled Percussion, the Goffstown-born band now headlining in Las Vegas, is part of the pre-race entertainment on Sunday.

Allen Lessels on Motor Sports