Back-to-back Viper Cup champ moving to new series
By By TAYLOR MITCHELL - TMITCHELL@VICAD.COM
Feb. 7, 2013 at 11 p.m.
Updated Feb. 6, 2013 at 8:07 p.m.
Two weeks ago, Crossroads car dealership owner and racer Ben Keating competed on the famous Daytona International Speedway track during the annual Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Keating's team completed 622 laps, putting them in 31st place.
Keating talked about the experience of racing at one of the most famous racetracks in the world and some of the new, exciting challenges awaiting him in the upcoming racing season.
Q: As the back-to-back champion racer in the SRT Viper Cup Series, how do you handle the pressure from that success and what will it take to win a third?
A: Actually, the success in the Viper Cup has reduced the pressure on me to perform. I have improved quite a bit over the past three years in Viper Cup competition. This year, I won first place in the first four races of the year. That gave me a pretty good points lead in the championship and made the rest of the year a little easier. I will not be competing in the Viper Cup in 2013. So, someone else will get the chance to have their name on the trophy. I wanted to continue to grow and develop at a higher level, and have decided to race the full season in the American Le Mans Series. This will be much higher competition and much higher profile, but I am going in with big expectations.
Q: You recently participated in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, what was the experience like driving at the famous Daytona Speedway?
A: There is nothing quite like Daytona. It takes a day or two to get used to running at 180 mph on the high banks. It is a fairly simple track layout, but that is one of the things that makes it so great. There are only a few corners where you can really make up a lot of time, but you can't take too much of a risk without big damage. It is a place where it is really easy to see the difference in driving technique between drivers. A guy like me can learn a ton at Daytona. And then somebody who is really fast and comfortable with the risk can get in trouble quickly.
Q: What are the different challenges involved with a 24-hour race?
A: A 24-hour race is totally different than a regular race. In fact, it is almost as much racing as the rest of the season put together. There is an old racing saying, "In order to finish first, you must first finish." This is more true in a 24-hour race than anywhere else. For the first 18 hours, you drive to protect the car from getting hurt and to stay on the lead lap as much as possible. Then in the final six hours, it is a sprint to the finish. The challenges are that there are so many factors that go into a clean race. A minor mistake in the pits can cost you the race. Another driver making a mistake can wreck you out and cost you the race. A simple penalty for speeding in pit lane can cost you the race. There are so many factors and everything has to go perfect to win. It is the hardest race to win, which is why it is so attractive to the best racers in the world.
Q: What is your best memory from the 24 Hours at Daytona?
A: My favorite Rolex 24 memory probably comes from the first time I ever ran the race. With only two hours left to go in the race, we had a real shot at winning. I had been up all night and didn't get any sleep. We were in third place and quickly catching the second place car. Plus, we knew the car in first place had clutch problems and we may be able to outlast them. The best memory was knowing that we were that close. It was so exciting that it is hard to describe. Our differential failed with 90 minutes to go in the race. Even still we got 13th in our class. I was hooked.
Q: Wrecks are very common in the world of racing. Have you wrecked before? How bad or what happened?
A: I cannot confirm or deny any wrecks in the past . Yes! Of course I have wrecked. In fact, I have done it on national television. However, the race cars of today are so extremely safe that I feel safer on the track than I do on the road. On the track, things happen quickly. You have to be extremely focused. Driving is just a series of decisions and judgment calls. If you make a bad decision, then there are usually immediate consequences. And if you are too conservative, then you are typically slow. So, you have to push the limits a little. Sometimes a wreck can happen that is totally not your fault. I have had a few hard hits, but I have never even been close to injury. In fact, I've never seen anyone else get injured in a wreck racing in the same race I've been in. The cars are built for this with every safety precaution imaginable.
Q: How far do you hope to take your racing career?
A: That is a good question. I am certain that racing is never going to pay the bills. So, the easiest answer is to say that I will continue to race until it is not fun anymore. Right now, that is hard to imagine. I love racing. I have only been doing it for six years and I continue to get better every year. The purpose of racing in ALMS this year is to step up my game and see how I compete at the next level. I expect to be competitive, but I'd be crazy to expect to win the first four races of the season like I did in the SRT Viper Cup.