When Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron waves the green flag to signal the start of Daytona 500 on Sunday afternoon, Ricky Benton will have a smile on his face and goosebumps on his arms. But it won’t be the pageantry surrounding the Great American Race that makes him happy.
His giddiness will come from knowing that his small race team, Ricky Benton Racing, based out of Cerro Gordo, N.C. – with a population of 199 –will have a car in the 60th running of the biggest stock-car race in the country.
“Daytona is hallowed ground,” said Benton, owner of the No. 92 Black’s Tire Service/Carquest Auto Parts Ford. “It’s the world center of racing. I’ll probably have goosebumps, and it’s a really good feeling to be here, but it’s just a race to us.”
While it may be hard for some to fathom Benton’s simplistic view of such a significant event, it comes as no surprise to those who know him.
“Ricky’s a racer,” said Tony Cox, former vice president of the Hooters Pro Cup Series and Myrtle Beach Speedway competitor. “He could be doing a lot of other things, but he loves racing. You have to admire that about him.”
The genesis of Benton’s love affair with the sport started on the Grand Strand, where he began fielding cars for drivers in 1990 at Myrtle Beach Speedway. After earning the 1998 NASCAR Winston Racing Series Atlantic Seaboard championship at Myrtle Beach Speedway, Benton and his team started chasing trophies around the country in the Hooters Pro Cup Series.
With Myrtle Beach native Jason Sarvis behind the wheel, RBR won the 2002 Hooters Pro Cup national championship. Benton also picked up a couple Rookie of the Year titles in the Pro Cup Series with drivers Drew Herring and Matt Carter. During those years, Benton’s business, Black’s Tire Service, also blossomed along the Grand Strand. The second-ever Black’s Tire Service store opened on 3rd Ave. in Myrtle Beach. His company now operates more than 40 Black’s Tire locations.
Myrtle Beach still holds a special place in Benton’s heart.
“Out of all our wins as a team, I think the first one at Myrtle Beach Speedway was the most memorable,” said Benton. “Myrtle Beach is kind of our home as a team. It’s also a been good to us as a business. We’ve got a lot of great customers in the area.”
Since 2010, RBR has been fielding trucks in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, making 79 starts and posting a best finish of third.
Although drivers have come and gone, much of the core group at RBR has remained the same over the past 20 years. Longtime RBR employees and Grand Strand residents Mike Hester, crew chief, and Ronnie Griffin, car chief, will lead the team in Daytona, along with Cerro Gordo native Mikey Hammond, team technician. While the team will be one of the smallest in Daytona, Benton feels like he has a secret weapon.
“We only have three full-time employees on the race team,” he said, “but we have what I like to call the Black’s Tire gang.”
Members of the “gang” often wear multiple hats for Benton. Many work at Black’s Tire Service locations in the Carolinas and moonlight with the race team, pitching in whenever and wherever needed.
“We’re fortunate to have so many people willing to give their time up for free to do this,” said Benton. “This team is really a big family. We couldn’t do this without everyone’s help.”
Unfortunately, Benton needed everyone’s help again on Friday to ensure his No. 92 Ford, piloted by veteran David Gilliland, would be ready for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Running near the top 10, Gilliland and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were involved in an incident late in the first Can-Am Duel qualifying race on Thursday night. The accident destroyed RBR’s primary car and forced the team to thrash all day Friday to ready the backup car.
“[The wreck] was tough because since we decided to do this, we’ve been putting all our work into the [primary] car,” said Benton, who purchased several Richard Petty Motorsports cars over the winter in hopes of making the Daytona 500. “[The backup] might not be as good of a car. Hopefully, we’ll be all right. Thank the Lord we did have a backup car, but it’s taken a lot of work from everybody to get it ready.”
Benton, whose car will roll off 39th in the Daytona 500, has plans to compete in all four restrictor plate races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule this season, as well as make four appearances in the Camping World Truck Series. But he doesn’t like to look that far ahead.
“It’s kind of like a ball player, one pitch at a time,” said Benton. “Our focus is on getting through this race, and then we’ll worry about the next one.”
Spoken like a true racer.