THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by two members of our championship team, the crew chief of the No. 99, Richard Lushes, and Allison Thorson. Richard, obviously a wild race but your second championship with Ben. Please tell us how you’re feeling right now.
RICH LUSHES: Relieved after that race. That was one of the craziest Phoenix races I’ve ever seen. I knew we had a good truck yesterday in practice and we just worked on it a little bit during the race. We struggled the first run but got it fixed up, and finally everything played out.
Like I said in my interview on TV, I respect Grant for racing us as clean as he did because he could have easily dumped us right there and won a championship over it, but raced us clean and fair, and here we are to celebrate again.
Q. Allison, how do you feel about this championship?
ALLISON THORSON: “Relieved” is a great word if we were to sum up in one word. But super happy for my family, Duke and Rhonda Thorson, my parents. We’ve been in the Truck Series since ’96, obviously. We believe in the Truck Series. This is our home. We love it. We want to keep coming back for more.
Rich, Ben being a returning pair, heck, you guys almost won it last year. It’s really incredible as well as out of the past 10 years, ThorSport has won five of the championships, between Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes. I think that’s something to say of consistency, keep trying to be better, open minded, a lot of humble. It’s racing, so it humbles you really quick, but we’re very fortunate to be here. There was a great group of drivers tonight that anybody on the stage could have been here. We’re happy to be here.
Q. Rich, Grant pits, got damage, he pits for tires. It seems at that point it’s over, and then things just keep happening. Ben gets in the accident, more cautions, Grant is picking his way up. Walk me through your perspective on how this is unfolding and what you’re thinking atop the pit box.
RICH LUSHES: We’re sitting there thinking, okay, we’re in a great spot. We’re behind our manufacturing teammate in the 38, and all we’ve got to do is run two miles and this thing is over. Then everything that happened.
Like the second or third green-white-checkered, I’m thinking, uh-oh, maybe we need to come pit here and at least put some fresh tires on so we can at least pass Grant. But at that point we had Ben Rhodes in the truck, so we’ve got to stay out and just let it play out, and luckily it did.
But yeah, the emotions on top of the pit box during the race were going high and low the whole time, because, like you said, when that happened, I’m like, okay, this thing is pretty much over, but then the 38 misses a shift, we run into the back of him, we’ve got damage, Ben is Ben on the radio.
We calmed him back down, and it all worked out.
Q. He’s got damage, looks like he’s got a tire rub to some degree. How close were you guys to pitting there?
RICH LUSHES: We weren’t at first and then as the next green-white-checkered happened and next thing you know Grant is 13th and we’re like, okay, maybe we need to come. But I told him that the damage was fine, it wasn’t rubbing. He couldn’t see it, so he believed me.
Q. What are some changes you’ve seen in Ben compared to his first championship compared to now this one as a driver?
RICH LUSHES: Right now he’s still sober, so that’s a good thing. But he’s matured, and I believe that the birth of Theo really changed him as a person and it shows on the racetrack, too, the maturity.
At any point tonight he could have lost his cool and actually got us in an accident that we didn’t need to be in, or he could have pushed too hard and put the truck in a bad position. But he understands the big picture now, and I think after winning the championship he’s got some relief and some stress off his shoulders, and I think we’re ready to win more.
Q. The race was run 29 laps more than originally scheduled. Was the fuel consumption scaring you, that maybe there’s not enough fuel in the car? And with you running fourth now, are you using the facilities in Dearborn, especially for aero testing, wind tunnel testing for example?
RICH LUSHES: Yeah, so we were good on fuel mileage. We were good about 229; with all the caution laps it just helped us out tremendously, and right now we’re still using everything in Mooresville for aerodyne and wind shear.
Q. Ben is so loyal to you guys because you sort of rescued his career and gave him a shot and kept him going. Where is his place with the team now? Now he’s won two championships, and it’s not like he’s winning tons of races, but made three straight Final Fours. How do you see his future with ThorSport?
ALLISON THORSON: Yeah, I think leading up to this championship race this year, in a lot of the interviews and all the press and everything, a lot of people refer to Ben as a veteran, and it’s kind of crazy to think, how old is he, 28, 29? 26, sorry, I should know that.
But he’s a young guy. He has a lot of life to live.
We like the Truck Series because our family ThorWorks Industries, we have a lot of different businesses that go hand-in-hand, like sponsor Kubota tonight, Campers Inn, there’s a lot of partners to make it go round, and we really like to invest in our sponsors as well as our drivers and as much as we can, mold that driver to that sponsor.
I think Ben is a staple. 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. Unfortunately I think a lot of the other truck teams, you see them here and then they kind of go away, where ThorSport I think has become a staple where if you have a part-time deal, we’ll want to make it happen for you because we have great backing with Ford and our team, great crew chiefs. Obviously Rich was with Ben the majority of the past couple years. We switched it up just because he’s such a great leader, and we were trying to show that we want to give everybody a fair shot, whether you’re racing five times with us this season or you’re racing a full season.
I think Ben is something to give people hope, and he’s a product of our hard work, our belief in what other people can be.
Q. Allison, does Ben get to choose his crew chief now or will you still mix them up whenever you want?
ALLISON THORSON: Obviously we’re an Ohio-based team, but I think another thing to add on is we’re like a family, so even drivers that have been with us for a while, they’re still pretty dang close to us. Ben comes up at least every other week, and we have our dinner spots of the week.
I’d say my dad, Duke Thorson, is going to keep him a little humble even though — like give him a hard time. I mean it like that.
But I’d say Rich has a little bit of an elbow in my dad’s side and then group decision, right, Rich?
RICH LUSHES: I think we talked about this earlier —
ALLISON THORSON: Are we going to talk about facts? Because we’re all about facts.
RICH LUSHES: It was kind of like a baseball team this year. Jeriod Prince started the season out. He was the starting pitcher basically, and got the season rolling and got the race win in Charlotte. Then we had the middle reliever come in, Brian Ross, and kept the season going, and then I came in and closed the deal out.
Like Allison said, we’re a big family, and whatever it took to win this championship.
Q. Rich, if Enfinger had dumped you and was like, look, this thing got stolen from me by a wreck that shouldn’t have happened, would you have understood?
RICH LUSHES: 100 percent. He could have easily went in there and dumped us, and it’s a racing deal, and that’s how everybody else raced tonight. Luckily Grant raced us clean and fair. Grant had nothing to lose tonight because GMS is shutting down tomorrow, so yeah, if dumped us, I’d have been completely upset but I would have also understood.
Q. Along those lines, what were you thinking when Corey somehow got loose and got into Hocevar? It was coincidence according to him. That kind of saved everything for you guys.
RICH LUSHES: Yeah, he said something broke. Yeah, definitely saved our day, and I was like, okay, now we’ve got a shot because we’ve got Ben Rhodes and there’s a restart coming and he’s probably one of the best restarters in the Truck Series.
It definitely was a little bit of relief because like you said, Ben struggled getting it into fourth gear on the restart before, and that’s when Grant got by us, and we could run him down and we could run about the same speed as he did, but we were pretty evenly matched, so whichever one of us got to the front first was going to win the thing.
Q. Rich, how are you up here giving these intelligent answers and stuff after doing the shoey?
RICH LUSHES: I’m used to it by now.
BEN RHODES: What a night. I don’t know what to say. Hey, you’re the boss. Go on, man.
THE MODERATOR: Do you have a few words you want to kick us off with?
BEN RHODES: Okay, I’ll kick us off with this. I was the experiment in 2021 because they just built the barn. I went to the barn first. They’re taking me to the barn second. It’s like they learned something. So guess what I did. I got lit beforehand.
Q. That was such a chaotic race. I’m sure to try to stay in it mentally with all the stuff that was happening, I don’t even know if you can stay with me right now —
BEN RHODES: I’m with you, brother.
Q. You get the damage, you’re in position, all that stuff. How did you hang in there and just be able to finish that race out?
BEN RHODES: Well, let me tell you what, man. Was it 26 laps of overtime? It was something like that. I was getting frustrated I’m not going to lie. I thought even if we won the championship — I am very sorry. That was embarrassing. Should have pulled the mic away.
I’m telling you, listen, it was like 26 laps of overtime. I thought even if we won it, I would be so mad — I ain’t mad. I just let it roll right off the shoulders. Here I am.
The question was how did I feel? What was the question? Oh, yeah, mentally, I was pretty angry.
I thought we were in like the real catbird seat position prior to the nose getting knocked off. We go to the wind tunnel — that’s a thing. They go down from Ohio, down the mountains, and they land in the North Carolina area, and then we go to the wind tunnel, and they do the wind tunnel thing, and we find grip, and then boom, I blow the nose off of it because the old 38 who doesn’t hit the shifter.
But I feel for him; I missed the shift probably three times tonight. I couldn’t get it into fourth. On the normal deal I could get it into fourth. When I say normal, at normal speed. I could do that. But on the restarts I’d go first, second, third, and I missed it like three times, so that was weird.
I couldn’t be mad at him because I did it myself. I just didn’t blow anybody’s nose off. But I like Zane; I love Tick-Tack. They helped us a lot this weekend, so I feel really bad about their finishing position because that was like — it was going to be like a Ford one-two I thought, and that was going to be really cool.
Q. Grant Enfinger has got damage, he pits, and you’re basically the last man —
BEN RHODES: Did he have damage? News to me.
Q. Did you know where he was at then? Did they tell you —
BEN RHODES: They came out 24th.
Q. They told you that?
BEN RHODES: Yeah, they did, and I was worried.
Q. Then you get damage.
BEN RHODES: I did.
Q. Walk me through your process of he’s got fresh tires, he’s coming up, the overtimes keep happening.
BEN RHODES: I had like 13 laps on my tires at that point, so I’m like, okay, you’ve got a lot of work to do, mamma jamma. You’re going to have to come on up in here.
Here’s the thing: 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.
I’m like, he’s going to have a lot of work to do. I was following Corey Heim, I was following Grant through the field after that last — what was that we had, a pit stop. We had a pit stop, put tires on it and cycled to the back. So I’m driving up through the field, following them, like wow, this is really hard, usually fresh tires. I remember like the 2020 Sheldon Creed had fresh tires on, he went to the inside wall and he won the whole race. It’s like, wow, we can’t do that this year; that’s weird.
He’s got work cut out for him. Sorry, Grant. I was like, we’re going to do good here.
Lo and behold, got nose knocked all around, and the guys are like hey, your tire is not rubbing. I’m like, well, that’s cool because the wheel is like over here and it was like over here. So something is going on. Toe is knocked out.
Then I was like, are you sure the tire is not rubbing? Are you sure the tire is not rubbing? Then I said, no, you’re lying — did he say he was lying to me? It was rubbing? I knew it. I loosened my belts up, and I was looking over the dash. I was looking over everything.
I thought it was good. I saw it was caved up, I didn’t see it was caved in. Dangit. That’s Rich — I knew — we done this three times now. I knew he was telling a fib. A big fibber.
By the way, everybody, dinosaurs aren’t real.
Q. What’s the drink count tonight, and what are you drinking?
BEN RHODES: 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 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 a European. I had most of that, and then I got this drink right here, this Bud.
Q. Do you have any kind of habits, like pre-race stuff? It seemed like now you’re going to have to be going to a steak house a lot.
BEN RHODES: I do love some steak. I’ve got this gentleman Justin Lofton as you guys may know, he owns this company called Ah Beef, like ahbeef.com. He’s been sending me beef before every race, so I have like a steak before every race even if we’re not going to T-Bonz steakhouse. So yeah. What’s the thing, beef for dinner, something like that? It’s great. I love some cows.
Q. Besides the shoey bets, what do you think makes you and Rich Lushes just tick?
BEN RHODES: I think tenacity. He’s got a beautiful — isn’t that a movie, beautiful mind is it? Is it a movie? Is that with John Travolta? Sorry, I never watched it. I’m thinking of the one with John Travolta where he can make things move with his hands. Phenomenon. That has nothing to do with right now.
The question was why do I like Rich Lushes? I like Rich Lushes because he just stays calm, cool, collected. He makes some crazy pit strategies, and I hate him for it in the moment because I’ve got to drive my butt off. Then by the end of the day it’s like a net gain, so I’m like, all right, I kind of love you.
Yeah, he makes these crazy pit calls. It’s good. He makes trucks that are comfortable that I can charge the corner with. That’s a good thing.
So we started — I have tried to drive looser and looser race trucks and just get more and more out of the race truck here recently, and it seems like the more we get out of them, the faster we go, the whole field is going faster, and like a couple years ago nobody would do some of the stuff they’re doing now setup-wise, and they’re going it. Anyways, we’ve all kind of migrated to this loose, this fast way of thinking. He’s been doing that. I’ve been doing that.
He still tries to make it comfortable. The thing about Rich is he’s not afraid to make a call. Beginning of the race, we have this spring rubber in the right rear. I like it. We threw it in there after practice because I thought it would be good.
Shame on him for listening to me because I don’t know any better, and here we are. Richard, take that spring rubber back out, I was wrong.
Then we go from like, what, third to 12th? I’m not going to live that down. He’s going to be mad about that for a while. Don’t ask me about setup device because I don’t know nothing.
Q. Are y’all doing karaoke downtown?
BEN RHODES: Something like that. I’m over by the TopGolf in Glendale, so y’all are welcome. Just come on — did I say that again? Was I not supposed to tell everybody where I’m staying? I’m sorry. That’s where I’m staying.
Q. When you’re trying to map out this race, I assume there’s no way you can map it out this way, but could you envision Hocevar making a mistake and then Heim and him getting back together which then kind of put you back in position to take a run?
BEN RHODES: Old Richard in his infinite wisdom at 50 billion years old with his gray hair that’s flaming and is just straight up the roof with his guy fairy haircut said, hey — was he in here? He would be yelling at me right now.
He said that he thought those guys were going to race really hard and make mistakes, and I said, look, I don’t see it, Richard. I see these guys racing the way they done all year long. They’re just going to go out there and do what they done. Corey Heim has been super consistent, and he was right, they raced super hard. They wrecked.
You know what’s funny, Christian Eckes came up to me before the race and said, hey, you’re looking good, man. Those other guys, they’re just shaking. They’re scared. They’re shaking. I said, well, that’s cool. I don’t know really know what to think about that. It feels normal. We’ve been doing this like three years in a row now. It feels normal. I’m glad we’re here, but I didn’t really think nothing of it. I just thought we’ve got to run our own race.
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?
Q. I ran out of fingers and toes. Then what does two championships mean as far as how you feel about your legacy or how you look at your career?
BEN RHODES: I ain’t got that far yet. I’m just trying to go and win races.
I don’t know. I was going to say call on the audience. They can speak more eloquently than me, but I don’t have a good answer for that yet. I’m just excited to be racing in the Truck Series. I love the Truck Series. It’s fast, it’s crazy, the races are short. We’ve got young guys that are full of exuberance and they do crazy things, and then you’ve got guys like — well, I guess me, Grant Enfinger and Matt Crafton, and Johnny is not here but I feel like Johnny Sauter is here in spirit.
I like Johnny. Remember when he called me a bozo? I called him last week, and I was like, hey, remember when you called me a bozo? He’s like, is this my yearly Ben Rhodes call? I said, yes, it is; what you doing in retirement, old man? He’s having a good life. I like Johnny.
That’s another tangent. I’m back.
Q. Yesterday you were talking about how your career was salvaged by Duke and giving you the ride and how grateful you were. From a personal aspect, alcohol aside, looking at where you are now and how will you carry this forward as far as your memories in your career?
BEN RHODES: Are you trying to make me cry?
Q. If it works.
BEN RHODES: Oh, boy. The question was something about the career being here —
Q. Saving your career.
BEN RHODES: Oh, yeah. Here’s the story. 2018, I’m like done. I’m like, hey, Duke, I’m out. We ain’t got no sponsorship. Hey, bye-bye. I told everybody bye-bye. Then he called me a couple weeks later and said, we’ll find a way. I think the quote was, Ben has got to race.
I said this at the Ford fan experience earlier. Duke has been like a father figure to me in a lot of ways. They said, when are you going to go to Cup? I said, look, I’m having a lot of fun in the Truck Series with ThorSport right now. They’ve done so much for me. They gave me my big break. They gave me my opportunity. We’ve won now two championships together, two owners’ championships, and what I love most about ThorSport Racing is the culture.
I go up there and Duke teaches me things about other than racing. We have dinner every night and it’s everything not to do with racing, and it’s usually like business experience, it’s just life, and it’s stuff from his age and all of his life experience that he teaches us and just having fun, too.
That’s invaluable to me. I love it. I’d change it for nothing.
I’m loving where I’m at in Truck Series. I love everything about the team. We’ve got Richard Lushes, so that’s cool.
Did that answer your question? You look pensive.
Q. I’m curious how you’ll reflect on this as far as — it’s quite an accomplishment, as Allison pointed out when she was up here. ThorSport has won five of the last 10 championships in the series, and you’re two of those and Matt is three, so you’re coming up on being able to tie Matt. At some point this is going to sink in that this is really a momentous occasion.
BEN RHODES: It hasn’t sunk in yet. Give me a couple days, mamma jamma. We’re going to figure it out. But right now I’ve got my champagne gogglies. 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.
I gave my towel away. Usually I have my wings, my towel, and some people was out there, I gave out all my hats, and somebody said, can I have your towel? I’m like, abso-freaking-lutely, have my towel, sir. He’s got my towel.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on the championship. We’ll let you get to the barn and enjoy the off-season TopGolf.
- Las Vegas Raider A.J. Cole named Grand Marshal for the Pennzoil 400 - February 28, 2024
- Jimmie Johnson and Cal Wells, III Named to West Coast Stock Car/Motorsports Hall of Fame Class of 2024 - February 28, 2024
- West Coast Stock Car/Motorsports Hall of Fame names its Class of 2024 - February 28, 2024