(EDITOR’S NOTE: Rhonda Beck is a freelance motorsports writer and artist and owner of WISNC Creations www.wisnccreations.net She has been the short and dirt track correspondent at the Gaston Gazette in Gastonia, N.C., since 2009, covering local and regional racing. Other publications and businesses she has written for include: Late Model Illustrated, DirtonDirt.com, the Charlotte Observer (Mooresville News), the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame, Carolina Speedway and East Lincoln Speedway).
Ross Kenseth came from 17th to finish sixth in his first late model start at Hickory Motor Speedway in Hickory, N.C. on April 7.
The 18-year-old son of NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth has been racing since his youth, starting out in go karts in Wisconsin and driving in various late model series across the Midwest, including with the CRA and ASAMT.
He is currently settling into a new routine. He moved from Wisconsin to study mechanical engineering at Clemson University and do more racing in the South.
He will compete in the PASS (Pro All Star Series) and will continue with CRA and ASAMT races this year. He recently talked about his racing and goals:
You finished sixth at Hickory in the Easter Bunny 150. How was your first race at the track?
The track was pretty cool. It was really worn out and slick. We didn’t have a lot of tracks like that last year where tire wear was the most important thing. We struggled all day, really all weekend. Our last pit stop helped us out a lot. With about 10 laps to go we were able to gain some track position and get a decent finish out of it.
You have a lot of short track experience. Do you feel pretty comfortable with tires and brake management?
I haven’t had problems with brakes before. We had one issue earlier in the year at Dillon (Motor Speedway) where we had a bad handling car and wore out the pads real bad. Other than that, we haven’t had any real issues with brakes, really in the past two, three years.
Why did you choose to get into the PASS Series?
Because I moved down here for school, it was mainly for the convenience and competition. We’ve got a shop in Mooresville and a lot of the PASS races are pretty close by and competitive. It will be challenging for us and I can learn a lot.
You’ll head to Orange County Speedway and then back to Madison International Raceway next. You have had good success at Madison in the past.
I love going to Madison because I’ve raced there a lot in the last three years. There are great fans up there and we’ve won a lot of races there. It’s a lot of fun to go back to the track because it’s really simple to get around once you get the hang of it. If you have a good car you can start from the back and get all the way to the front before the race is over. At a lot of the tracks now it’s hard to pass, so that’s why that one is fun to race on.
Backtracking a little, you started in Go-Karts in Wisconsin, racing a lot at Shawano. You’ve also raced the INEX Legends. Any highlights from those earlier years?
Oh, gosh, that’s a long time ago. We won a lot of Go-Kart races growing up. The first time I was in a Go-Kart we won both our heat and the feature that day. I’ve run a lot of Legends cars. I remember coming to Charlotte for the first time. We made the show and finished like 12th and that was kind of a big deal.
There are some new Legends dirt modifieds out there that have been designed by Ray Evernham. Have you done much dirt racing?
We ran dirt Go-Kart races a few times, but not really. I’ve been to the Prelude (to the Dream) the last three years and watched my dad. To have a chance to drive one of those things (dirt late models) some day would be really cool.
Blaine’s Farm and Fleet is one of your main sponsors. How has that been to get sponsors, especially during a tough economy?
Yeah, we’ve been really fortunate to have Blaine’s Farm and Fleet on our car for the past four years and I couldn’t be happier with them. They put a lot of support behind me. Between them, Valvoline and help from Ford, I can’t complain. In times like this when it’s tough to find a sponsor, it’s been good to have someone secure for the past few years.
Do you have any racers or pioneers in the sport that you admire?
The guy I watched the most growing up was probably my dad. I watched him on TV every week. And I thought it was pretty cool racing up there at Kaukauna (Wisconsin International Raceway) last year. We drove in the Blue race with Lowell Bennett, and all those guys I remember watching while growing up. (Ross won the Red, White and Blue Championship in 2011, three points ahead of Bennett). And the Slinger Nationals (at Slinger Speedway) are a lot of fun. I wish the car counts there were a little better, like they used to be, but there’s always a great crowd and they put on a good show.
Anything you like to work on with the cars?
It’s my first semester down here and I’m busy with school. But honestly, I like to spend as much time as I can in the shop with Jamie (Rouleau, crew chief) and those guys working on the cars. Basically learning as much as possible and making sure we’re running up front each week.
Have you been to any places like Memory Lane Museum in Mooresville or the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte? Do you think it’s important to preserve and learn about the history of the sport?
Oh yeah, for sure. This sport wouldn’t be where it is if it wasn’t for everybody who helped it get started and has been there in the past. And I think that should never be forgotten.
Have you picked up any new habits or enjoyed any new foods since living in the South?
Sweet tea. I’ve been drinking that for the last couple months now.
Do you have any other favorite hobbies or sports?
I try to play basketball as much as possible. It’s been a little different since I haven’t had practice every night – I played four years of basketball in high school. And when we have some down time, which is very rare, I try to read a book or two.
Cambridge, Wisc., is known for pottery and a few other things. Is there any place there you’d recommend that people visit?
The Matt Kenseth Fan Club Store, for sure. They’ve got a really cool museum up there. They’ve got a lot of his cars. There’s the Homestead car that was Robbie Reiser’s last race. And the car Dad flipped in a race at Talladega a few years back. They’ve got a lot of neat things up there, something to check out.
As racers know, it’s often hard to predict schedules real far in advance. But in February they announced at Daytona International Speedway that there would be an inaugural short track late model event there next year. Is that something you’d like to participate in?
We haven’t talked about it yet, but that would be pretty cool. I think right now it’s important to get as much late model experience as possible and go around a bit and get to know different tracks and try to get as many wins as possible. I haven’t been to three quarters of the tracks I’m scheduled at this year. So I think that will be a challenge for us and for the new crew chief – to get the car ready for each different place.