Kyle Benjamin, a first-generation racer, doesn’t know whose idea it was to set him down the path of auto racing. But his earliest memory of visiting a track, a dirt track for go-karts, at the age of 5 is … distinct.
“I was so excited when I got to the track, I took off running and ran a lap around it,” Benjamin told NBC Sports. “When I finished my lap I puked. … I ran a lap around the track and puked everywhere. That’s probably my earliest memory of racing. I think it’s actually the first time I went to a track.”
Within 10 years, the native of Easley, South Carolina, would make history by becoming the youngest winner in the ARCA Racing Series, winning at Madison International Speedway in his sixth start with Venturini Motorsports.
“It was really cool, especially since you’re making the jump to a heavy car and you want to perform in a heavy car because that’s what you’re going to be in if you continue to move up the ladder,” Benjamin said.
He has continued to master “heavy cars,” winning five K&N Pro Series East races in the last three years. That resulted in a five-race deal to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series this year.
In his first two races, Benjamin qualified on the front row, including his first career pole last weekend at Pocono Raceway. He’ll be back next weekend at Iowa Speedway driving JGR’s No. 18 Toyota. Right now, Benjamin is only scheduled to compete in less than 10 races all year, including this weekend’s ARCA race at Michigan International Speedway.
“My off-time in the summer time is just doing some summer classes and doing some school. That’s pretty much it,” Benjamin said. “There’s not a whole lot in-between, which is why I’d like to be racing. I like to be at the track. It’s tough this year because I’m used to racing about 30-something races a year and I’m down to I think eight total or seven total. It’s been kind of tough.”
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.
NBC Sports: On your website, it says your hobby is collecting trophies. Where do you keep all your trophies?
Benjamin: I keep all the cool ones in the house, but there’s too many of those to keep them in the house so we gotta have to a storage facility for that one. But all the cool ones, the ones I really love, like the ARCA trophies and all the really big late model trophies, I keep in my house.
NBC Sports: Which trophy means the most to you?
Benjamin: The coolest trophy I have has to be the Dover trophy in K&N. The Monster Mile. You can’t beat Miles. Probably the coolest trophy in NASCAR, for sure.
NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?
Benjamin: That’s a tough one. One thing I’ve wanted to do is go skydiving. That’s probably on my bucket list. It’s one the things I think is on most people’s bucket lists, but I think it would be a really cool thing to do.
NBC Sports: Is driving at 180 mph not enough for you?
Benjamin: I guess not. You’re probably falling at 180 mph, too, out of an airplane I guess it would be kind of similar. It would be a really neat feeling to go experience that and also have bragging rights to say you’ve done it.
NBC Sports: If you were in the Bristol Cup race, what would your introduction song be?
Benjamin: That’s an even tougher one. Let me think for a second … It would have to be something funny, which is a problem. Probably “Another One Bites the Dust” (by Queen). That’s the only one I can think of that would be a funny one to play.
NBC Sports: What was the last song you got stuck in your head?
Benjamin: You’re going to laugh, but it’s actually a Katie Perry song. Me and my sister got it stuck in our head probably a week ago. I was singing it non-stop. I think it was “Roar” by Katie Perry. It’s funny when you get it stuck in your head. I would never just listen to that song, but it was stuck in my head for a week. It’s such an off-the-wall song.
NBC Sports: What’s the coolest merchandise you could imagine seeing your name or face on?
Benjamin: Someone having a tattoo with my face or name on it would be cool. That’s what I want to see. That would be cool. People do it, it’s amazing, but people do it.
NBC Sports: If you could add a track to your Xfinity schedule, what would it be?
Benjamin: I’d probably add Bristol, that’s probably one of my favorite tracks. Either that or Dover. Between those two, probably Bristol because you can’t beat that place. It’s such a cool place as far as the size and how fast you run around that place. It’s a different track and it’s also not a track you have to deal with the aero on, which is what I like about it too.
NBC Sports: You’re from Easley, South Carolina. What’s the coolest thing about Easley?
Benjamin: Probably Clemson right now. I know it’s not in Easley, but it’s so close to Easley. It’s about five minutes away. It’s right next to it, so I kind of include that. But it’s pretty cool to have a (college football) national championship team here right by your house.
NBC Sports: What’s the most emotional reaction you’ve had to a sporting event that wasn’t racing?
Benjamin: Probably the first (Clemson) loss to Alabama (in 2016 national title football game), that was pretty tough. I thought we had that game won. I was on the edge of my seat the whole game and I couldn’t believe how that thing ended.
NBC Sports: So you had more of an emotional reaction to Clemson losing the national championship than winning it?
Benjamin: Yeah, probably because I really thought that we had it. The whole game I thought we had them beat. I forget exactly how we did it, but we gave up a big play that allowed them to win the game. It was a heartbreak because at halftime I thought we had it and it wasn’t long after that that we lost it, so I was kind of emotional.
NBC Sports: If you have a day without any racing or family obligations, how do you spend you day?
Benjamin: If it was in the winter time, at the beginning of the race season, I’d probably be snowboarding. If it was in the summer time, I’d be mountain biking for sure.
NBC Sports: What’s your best snowboarding story?
Benjamin: Probably the time I almost broke my legs. I just started, I wasn’t really ready to hit it. My friend talked me into it. I don’t really know how to describe what I jumped. I guess you could call it a box jump or a pipe jump. But I hit that thing, I didn’t know what I was doing. I probably sailed 20 feet past the landing, way up in the air. … I thought I was going to break my legs, I don’t know how I didn’t. I must have landed perfectly, cause I was so high in the air it should have hurt something, but I got lucky on that deal.
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