March 6, 2014 — Audio and story by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — Photo credit SpeedRacer Photography via Kyle Benjamin — EASLEY, S.C. — There’s not much that Kyle Benjamin hasn’t done so far in 2014.
From wheeling a NASCAR WHELEN Modified to competing in his Super Late Model, the young teenager from Easley, South Carolina has quickly built himself a vastly diverse resume in the motorsports world and has found success at every level along the way.
Benjamin raced his way out of quarter midget and Bandolero competition over the early portion of his career, setting numerous age records along the way and racking up dozens of victories and championship titles, including becoming the youngest-ever winner of the Bandolero Nationals in 2007.
Still just 16 years old, Benjamin has advanced further and not only competed but contended in some of the biggest short track events across the country over the past four seasons, dating back to his rookie late model season in 2010 when he set fast time in practice for his first-ever Snowflake 100. The young talent has finished in the top ten (seventh to be exact) in his last two Snowball Derbys and won both the Rattler 250 (South Alabama Speedway) and the Pete Orr Memorial 100 (New Smyrna Speedway) in 2013.
That striking run of success led to an opportunity with Venturini Motorsports for the second part of the 2013 season where Benjamin turned a lot of heads, contending on every short track he raced at and scoring two ARCA Racing Series victories at Madison and Salem in the fall as well as the pole at Toledo Speedway in may before a gear failure ended his strong run there.
“We had an incredible 2013 season,” Benjamin expressed in a recent interview with Race Chaser Online. “I feel like my expectations were met and even exceeded in several cases, and I feel like we were really able to show a lot of people what we were capable of last year.”
“It took us a while to break through and get that big touring win (on the ARCA side) but man, once we did that, it really seemed like everything just started falling into place for us.”
But if everything at the end of 2013 went right, the start to 2014 couldn’t have been more unusual for the short track standout who has made a habit of winning races over the course of his career.
Benjamin began his 2014 season at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway during Florida Speedweeks and, while being workman-like consistent, could not break the threshold to get to victory lane over the first six nights of competition at the World Series despite five top five finishes in his first six Super Late Model races at Smyrna.
“It just seemed like whatever we did, no matter how good a car we had, we just couldn’t get that little bit extra we needed to break the plane and get the checkered flag. I won’t say it wore on me but it was a little frustrating to know we could have won several of those races and just not quite be able to get it done.”
That was, until the Saturday night finale to the World Series.
The nine-day extravaganza ended the night before the Daytona 500 with the Bruce Gowland Memorial 100 for the Super Late Model class, and the Kyle Benjamin we’ve seen dominate at short tracks across the country over the past four years came out to play, and win. Benjamin ran away with the extra-distance affair after leading 48 of the race’s 100 laps and surviving several late-race restarts with New Smyrna regular Travis Cope.
“It’s a big momentum boost,” said Benjamin following the race. “We started on a low and ended on a high. I’ve got some pretty big races coming up and it’s really cool to have this win to start the season and get everyone in a positive attitude. I’m ready to start.”
In between his affairs at the World Series, Benjamin also found time to make his NASCAR WHELEN Modified Tour debut at the UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona International Speedway in the Kevin Manion-prepared #7NY that Sprint Cup-regular Ryan Newman has driven to prominence over the years at Loudon, New Hampshire and Bristol, Tennessee. After a strong top-ten qualifying performance and speeds in practice on pace with the frontrunners, a suspension issue and power-steering problems ultimately retired Benjamin from the event, but not without huge enthusiasm for having the opportunity.
“After how cool running that modified was, I’m buying one,” Benjamin laughed following his experience at Daytona. “So different than anything I’ve ever driven but it was so much fun.”
With everything he’s done in recent months, what else is there for the South Carolina teenager to do? Keep moving forward. Benjamin was just announced as one of the drivers in a new development deal for Roush-Fenway Racing that will see him pilot a car for the Roulo Brothers in multiple events in the ARCA Racing Series for the 2014 season.
While Benjamin won’t be eligible to compete at the larger superspeedways on the schedule, he will be a force to be reckoned with at the short tracks that the series will compete at, and he’s looking forward to turning a few more heads along the way.
“Driving for the Roulo Brothers is an unbelievable opportunity for me,” said Benjamin. “It’s my dream to compete in and win races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and this is the first step. I’m thankful that the Roulos believe in me enough to take me in and help me realize my dream. It’s going to be a lot of fun driving for Gary (Roulo) and the Roulo Bros. Racing team, who have an amazing track record with their young drivers.”
“My goal for this year is to go out and perform as strong as I can, and hopefully make a few people realize that even though we won’t be able to run every race and compete for the driver’s title, that we belong at the front as much as the championship contenders and that we will be a factor every time we show up to the race track.”
For the young man who has not passed up a chance to hop behind the wheel of a competitive car and drive yet this season, the diversity of his opportunities continues to surprise even him.
“If you’d have told me six months ago that now I’d have had the chance to drive a WHELEN Modified, my Super Late Model, and an ARCA car in the span of about two months, I might have looked at you a little funny.”
“But you know what they say: when opportunity knocks, sometimes you jsut have to open the door and see what happens. I’d say it’s worked out pretty well for us so far.”
Listen in to more of our interview with Kyle Benjamin as he talks his upcoming 2014 season, looks back on his Super Late model career to this point and talks about his recent experiences in the ARCA Racing Series: