By Jerry Jordan, Editor
AVONDALE, Ariz. – For those wondering about what kind of celebration Ben Rhodes would have after winning his second Craftsman Truck Series Championship in the past three years, he says, “You just hang on, Mamma Jamma, you’re about to find out.”
After leading four separate times for 36 laps, Rhodes found himself trailing championship contender, Grant Enfinger, with 20 laps to go in the race. That’s when Corey Heim meted out retribution to Carson Hocevar after Hocevar dumped Heim as they battled for the title. There’s little doubt that the conflict impacted the outcome of the championship as it forced a restart that allowed Rhodes to get by Enfinger. Hocevar’s championship hopes were dashed and Heim’s truck was in no condition to compete with Rhodes and Enfinger.
Over the next 62 minutes, there would be four overtime restarts that resulted in damage to both Rhodes’ and Enfinger’s trucks. Rhodes would finally edge out Enfinger to the finish line at 9:52 p.m. MST. And being the gentleman racer he is, Enfinger didn’t put the bumper to Rhodes when he had the chance.
Roughly an hour later the on-track chaos spilled over into the media center in the form of another epic alcohol-induced press conference with the two-time Craftsman Truck Series Champion, Rhodes.
“What a night. I don’t know what to say. Hey, you’re the boss. Go on, man,” Rhodes said, referring to NASCAR’s moderator attempting to maintain control of the press conference. But it wasn’t long before the train left the tracks and “derailed” might be an understatement.
“Here’s the thing,” Rhodes said, taking the media through his race. “The track I thought had less grip this year than the past. We were three-tenths slower in qualifying. The whole field was. Them are numbers. Real numbers. Three-tenths slower in qualifying, something like that. Then in the race, I’m just sliding all over the place, like either we suck or everybody is sliding. I think everybody was sliding. I don’t think we sucked …
“… The thing that was disturbing to me was running second to Corey and he’s driving away at the start of the race. I knew there would be late-race cautions, I just didn’t know there would be like a billion of them. Is that the right number, a billion?
The Sandusky, Ohio-based operation is owned by Duke and Rhonda Thorson and through the years, they have been a mainstay in the truck series. Veteran driver, Matt Crafton, helped the team secure three of their truck series titles and Rhodes has added his two. But Rhodes wasn’t focused on the historical aspect of what it meant during his press conference.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Rhodes told Kickin’ the Tires. “Give me a couple days, Mamma Jamma. We’re going to figure it out. But right now, I’ve got my champagne gogglies (goggles). I’ve got my hat and my chain, and we’re just having a grand old time. We’re going to go up to the barn here soon, and I’m going to see all kinds of race fans …
“Well, I started on my champagne, and then I ran out. So, then I had to fill up my shoe twice, so I had to borrow Rich’s (Lushes, crew chief) champagne, so I filled that up, they drank it, and then I drank the rest of the bottle. Those were big bottles. That was like a liter and a half, like a real liter and a half, as in European. I had most of that, and then I got this drink right here, this Bud.”
Although Rhodes was more focused on the celebration and less focused on the historic aspect of his championship, ThorSport adviser, Allison Thorson, who handles sponsor relations, understood what another title means for the team.
“I think Ben is a staple,” Thorson said, before Rhodes met with the media and after he’d drank champagne from his show on the championship stage. “Like Rich said, he’s matured a lot. You could say that for maybe some other drivers that have been with us or even some veteran drivers that we’ve housed for a long time because we just like to win. Whether it’s getting a pole, winning a race throughout the season or winning a championship, it’s obviously just win, win, win, win and building character with that.
“I think Ben has a great personality. I think a lot of people are looking forward to maybe if he’s fun in his press conference tonight. I know he was trying to get some beverages just to give everybody a show. There’s a lot to live up to. I think he has more to live up to in his press conference than the race. But I think it just means a lot. I think it gives hope for maybe drivers that maybe were in Ben’s shoes five, six, seven years ago.”