Chasing down opponents on Dodge Viper Cup series

Ben Keating, right, wins the inaugural race of the Dodge Viper Cup at Virginia International Speedway in Alton, Va., on July 10.
  • RACE RESULTSJuly 10, Virginia International Speedway, Alton, Va.

    Dodge Viper Cup, first race

    1: #33 - Ben Keating (Total time: 29:28.5)

    2: #99 - Jeffery Courtney (Total time: 29:29.1)

    3: #67 - Ryan Schmisk (Total time: 29:29.7)

    4: ...

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  • RACE RESULTSJuly 10, Virginia International Speedway, Alton, Va.

    Dodge Viper Cup, first race

    1: #33 - Ben Keating (Total time: 29:28.5)

    2: #99 - Jeffery Courtney (Total time: 29:29.1)

    3: #67 - Ryan Schmisk (Total time: 29:29.7)

    4: #90 - Keith Verges (Total time: 29:36.3)

    5: #1 - Jim Stout (Total time: 29:58.1)

Not too long ago, Ben Keating wasn't exactly doing well at racing.

He said he would take to the go-cart course against some friends, and the results were not encouraging.

"I always got my butt kicked, and I thought I was fast," Keating said. "And now, I'm lapping everybody, because I understand the mechanics of how to go fast."

He's learned that racing isn't all about speed, and that it can look deceptively easy to a lot of people.

"I look at racing, and it doesn't seem like it's that hard to go around in circles," he said.

But it is, Keating said. And the owner of the Port Lavaca Auto Group has spent a large part of the last four years learning the ins and outs of racing, how to pass and break along with studying tracks.

And that work paid off on July 10, when Keating won the inaugural event of the Dodge Viper Cup series at Virginia International Speedway in Alton, Va.

That win, combined with a second-place finish the following day at the same track, has him in the points lead in the series.

His interest in racing started out simple enough: With a vacation.

"My wife bought me a weekend at the track for Christmas," he said. "It was the funnest thing I ever did."

It sparked him to buy a Dodge Viper race car that came ready for the track. While the car enabled him to get into racing faster - he started the following year - it didn't translate into immediate success.

"I did very poorly, but learned quickly," Keating said. "I was really amazed at how technical it is. It makes you appreciate watching racing more."

But joining the Dodge Viper Cup meant there was little time to prepare. The first of the Cup series' 10 races was in early July, and the cars arrived at their destinations in June.

Fortunately, major customization wasn't an issue, Keating said.

"You're not allowed to change anything on the car - very few things," he said. "So it was changing the oil, changing the brake fluid and putting the brake pads on that you wanted and moving the seat."

Part of his preparation for a race includes simulations. Keating has a set up that allows him to practice on computer simulations.

Keating had been a member of the Viper Racing League, and had performed well on that series. But the Dodge Viper Cup is totally different, with stiffer competition and fewer amateur racers.

"This is a professional series," he said. "Always before, I was in an amateur series with a bunch of guys going out and having fun.

"This is a lot more serious. This is, you get paid for winning. You're on television. Now, instead of just being a weekend warrior, I am a professional race car driver, to add something to my resume.

"That brings out a much different caliber of person.

"Most of the cars that are racing in the Dodge Viper Cup are owners who are racing their car," he said.

But the front runners tend to be teams with professionals racing the cars for owners. There is one other owner who Keating said races his car and is at the forefront of the Dodge Viper Cup.

"I think the results of the race ended up being better than I deserved," he said. "I was not the fastest car there; all weekend, I had been the third fastest car. But I was very consistent, didn't make any mistakes and we passed tech inspection."

The great folly of the first race for others, Keating pointed out, was that several of the cars were set too low, something he and his team made a conscious effort to avoid.

"On the first race, the two cars that qualified in front of me didn't pass tech inspection, so I got to start in front," he said.

But starting in first was an odd sensation.

"It's very hard to lead," he said. "It's hard not to have a rabbit to chase. You're not exactly sure how you're doing or if you're walking away from them. When you're chasing somebody down, it's all out going after them as hard as you can.

"When you're out in front, it's about trying to not make any mistake. Don't spin out, don't make any dumb errors which are going to hurt you."

Overall, he's excited about the new series and his prospects on it.

"All the cars are the same, and it should be a very competitive series, and I love the competition," Keating said. "I love to have a rabbit to chase, I love to have a carrot. I want to do well and I want to know that I did well against similar caliber people."