There’s not many events in life more important for an 18-year-old than graduating high school. Unless, you know, you’re given a chance to drive a car for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
That’s the exact decision Ben Rhodes was forced to make leading up to this weekend. Rather than attending graduation ceremonies at Louisville’s Holy Cross High School, Rhodes has opted to get behind the wheel of the No. 88 machine for JR Motorsports in Newton, Iowa.
“I’m very eager to get in the race car and prove myself,” Rhodes said of the opportunity, via Mark Story of The Lexington Herald-Leader. “At the same time, I know I am in with the All-Star group. They are going to perform. They are going to win a bunch of races. I’ve got to try to impress them. I don’t know if I will win races, but I’ve got to try to impress them.”
Even at a young age, Rhodes is already an accomplished driver. The high school graduate won the K&N Pro Series East Championship last year with Turner Scott Motorsports after compiling five wins and 11 top-five finishes during the 2014 season. He also tied a K&N Series record with four straight wins—a streak that, ironically enough, started in Iowa.
Now that he’s getting an opportunity to driver for JRM, his mother, Lori Rhodes, knows nothing else comes first.
“Ben’s always been OK with missing anything as long as it is for racing,” she told Story.
Rhodes is planning to make his Xfinity debut on Sunday after a long wait to start the season. He’s only starting in 10 races with Junior’s team because both Earnhardt and Kevin Harvick trade off the car when the Sprint Cup and Xfinity races are at the same track.
While he only has a partial ride with JR Motorsports, Rhodes has still been present for the Xfinity Series events. Whether it’s listening to the radio or simply taking tips from Harvick and Earnhardt, the young driver has been taking it all in. Aside from his driving ability, that alone has impressed his owner.
“He’s really done a lot when it comes to being accountable at the races and standing there and trying to be a sponge to the information that is available to him when we’re practicing,” Earnhardt Jr. said during a test session at Kentucky Speedway.
“I’ve seen him at every (Xfinity) race I’ve been at. At the races I drove this year, he’s been in the garage asking questions. In between practice runs, he’s standing there listening and asking questions. … He wants to be as prepared as possible.”
— JR Motorsports (@JRMotorsports) March 6, 2015
But not all is lost for Rhodes in terms of his graduation. He might not be walking on the stage to receive his diploma, but Holy Cross President Tim Weihe has found a way to make the day special. Weihe will travel to Iowa Speedway to present Rhodes with his diploma during driver introductions prior to the 3M 250.
In a garage with an already blossoming young star in Chase Elliott and a veteran like Regan Smith, Rhodes should feel right at home—even if he’s 615 miles away.
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