Inside Kentucky Health
Ben Rhodes, who knew at a tender age that he wanted to become a professional NASCAR driver, was just 14 when he learned first-hand the importance of keeping fit and eating right.
The Louisville native was competing in his first stock car race. It was a huge step up from the Legends circuit he’d dominated the previous year. When he got out of the car, he wasn’t feeling well.
“I just got so sick and I was tired, exhausted,” he said. “It just wore me out. I realized what I needed to do and how I needed to eat.”
Today, the 18-year-old is a rising star in NASCAR. In May, he graduated from Holy Cross High School in Louisville, , was in Iowa that same weekend for his first race in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, one step below the sport’s highest level. He finished a strong seventh and hasn’t looked back.
Rhodes won a championship last year in NASCAR’s K&N East Series, a developmental circuit for young drivers, winning five races and attracting the attention of NASCAR’s top teams. One of those was JR Motorsports, headed by the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. In December, Rhodes signed with JR Motorsports to run in 10 Xfinity races in 2015.
His next race is Saturday (July 18) in New Hampshire, and he will compete in his home state at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta on Sept. 26.
Four years ago, he amped up his workout routine and changed his diet. Rhodes, who briefly ran with the cross country team at Holy Cross, began working out at a CrossFit facility on a regular basis. He eliminated almost all bread from his diet, stopped drinking anything but water, and chose a diet largely consisting of chicken, fruits, and vegetables.
“I went to the gym because I had to step it up, and I always look up to people who are fit and healthy,” said Rhodes. “If I can’t eat healthy, I don’t eat at all.”
He’s got plenty of role models in NASCAR, including drivers such as Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, who focus on their fitness for driving. And Danica Patrick is a CrossFit advocate who brings equipment with her to races.
While he continues CrossFit training, Rhodes also recently acquired a bicycle and has been riding for fitness, mainly along the bike path in Riverport that’s part of the Louisville Loop. He said members of his pit crew team are encouraging him to train for a triathlon, and he’s looking into getting some instruction for the swimming portion.
Rhodes lives in Louisville but travels a lot for racing, and says one of his biggest challenges is eating well on the road. He said the restaurants where the crew stops for meals don’t always have healthy choices.
“Once in a while a burger is OK, but I usually get grilled chicken, with no bread, or order a salad,” he said.