Green Flag with Ben Ashline
Ben Ashline, of Pittston, ME likes to go fast, especially driving the #15 DS Norton Construction late model. Which has been tearing up the track at Oxford Plains Speedway and in the American Canadian Tour. Ben had an up and down 2010 season with some big wins and some big wrecks.
RPM. What are you plans for the 2011 Race Season?
Ben. Right now, our plans are to run oxford plains speedway for points. Our goal is the championship. We are going to try to make an attempt to qualify for four American Canadian tour races if our budget permits it at that time, We are going to attempt to qualify for the td bank 250, and we are hoping to get an invite to the invitational race at Loudon.
Our goals are to make the field in all the ACT tour races we attempt and come home with the car in one piece with a top ten finish. We attempted to qualify for four (ACT) races last year and we made all the races we attempted, so we feel our goals are very realistic. One personal goal of mine is to make a start in a super late model. Every driver goes to the race track every weekend to win. I feel like with the gains we made on our car at the end of last season, we can run in the top five consistently and win races.
RPM. How did you get started in racing?
Ben. Well my entire family has been around racing for quiet some time. My grandfather and great uncle raced back in the day at Beech Ridge and Unity on the dirt tracks. My father and uncles raced Enduro cars and strickly stock racecars for roughly 7 years at Wiscasset. I grew up watching them race on Saturday nights. I always helped them in the garage putter on there cars, doing as much as I was allowed to without hurting myself. Being very young I couldn’t do much, but I tried to absorb as much information as I could. I had a strong desire to be around loud cars, I loved speed and being in a racing atmosphere. I showed a huge interest in it and finally at the age of ten, my father purchased a WKA legal go-kart that I ran for six years all over New England. In those six years we accumulated over 130 feature wins with 6 championships and a variety of awards. At age 16 we decided the next step in my career would be a late model. We built a car from the ground up with nothing but second and third hand parts. For the first two seasons we struggled with non stop mechanical failures. We slowly updated parts on the car throughout the third season and had 5 top three finishes. We went into last year with high hopes but struggled with the car for the first half of the year. We had handling issues we couldn’t figure out and finally 250 weekend we made some huge gains and really turned things around. A few weeks after the 250 we encountered a” wrong place at the wrong time” situation that cost us an entire car. It completely destroyed the car after a head on hit into the front stretch wall. At that point our season had ended but DS Norton construction stepped up and helped us get a car. We came back and again had some misfortune tearing the right front off the car. We kept pluggin’ away and on our next trip back to the track we finally brought home a feature win. My career thus far, has been full of ups and downs but I have my family to thank for giving me the fever, the racing fever.
RPM. What have you been doing in the off season?
Ben. Off season? What off season. The crew has been working very hard on the car in the shop, going through everything making sure we are ready to contend for the championship in 2011. My main time consumer in the off season has been work. I worked full time as a diesel mechanic working 45-50 hours a week. A new opportunity has risen and I am now an employee of distance racing products. I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity to work at such a great race shop. Jeff and Sean have really taught me a lot throughout last season and I feel very privileged to be working with them day in and day out learning any and all aspects of chassis building. If I’m not at work or home working on our racecar then I’m doing anything I can to help prepare myself for next season, Which means eating healthy, Working out ( I play basketball in men’s leagues) and making sure my body is ready to go in the spring.
RPM. Racing in the last 2 TD Bank 250, what was it like competing against drivers like, Steve Wallace, Kenny Wallace, and Brad Keselowski.
Ben. We’ll right now we’ve qualified for two and missed two TD Bank 250’s. Facing the struggles we encountered the first two attempts really made me respect this race. Its such a prestigious event and to say you made the race is a huge accomplishment in itself. Not qualifying the first two times made me appreciate it so much more when we did qualify. The first year we made it, we received a provisional. We made the race and it didn’t matter how we got in, but this past season when we drove from mid pack to qualify. That was a great feeling. The icing on the cake was getting the chance to run side by side with Keselowski for a long time, rubbin’ fenders, and to pass a Wallace the year before was kind of a cool feeling. I approached Brad last year and Kenny the year before and to hear them talk it was like they knew they had a long race ahead of them. They didn’t appear to think they were above any other driver in the pits. They understood how difficult it is to come in to a place like Oxford Plains Speedway (OPS), for such a big event with a huge field of stiff competition and qualify for the show and for a big name driver like that to present himself that way showed a lot of respect to the local racers.
RPM. If you could do one thing to improve the racing at OPS, what would it be?
Ben. That’s a real hard question. You know some people don’t like the rules package at Oxford. I think that the rules package they have, following the act standards is a great package. It allows people with a lot lower budgets to compete. You get into a class like pro-stocks where shocks can get expensive quick and a lot more tires and just higher over all cost. Of course racing is expensive no matter what you race no matter where you race. My own personal opinion is OPS has a decent tech program and a good rules package. One tire a week is covered by a majority of your tow money. It’s just one of the most cost effective tube chassis divisions around. As far as the racing itself. I honestly don’t know what you could do to improve it. I guess the easy route to take would be using more black flags. No matter how many times you throw it, your never gonna make everyone happy. Especially not the recipient of the flag. Everybody has there aggressive moments. It’s racing. I know I’ve had mine. But I guess to make the racing better you need the most cars you can get, and to keep those cars they can’t be wrecked, so just making sure people respect each other out there and when they don’t, use the flag. I’m not saying oxford was a wreck fest last season. It was a little more aggressive in general then past seasons but the racing was good. Pulled a decent car. Knowing Oxford pulled a decent car count before the 250 and even higher after the 250, when usually it’s a lot lower after must mean they were doing something right. I personally have no complaints about the way things are at OPS. But if there was that one thing that could be improved then that would probably be it. You can never wave that flag enough until it’s pointed at you.
RPM. What is the key to getting around OPS?
Ben. You know coming up through karts, one of the biggest things I learned was momentum, let the car do more of what it wants and just be smooth. I feel like Oxford is all about momentum. In the longer ACT races, before they hit the halfway mark most of the drivers are searching for grip in the second and third groove. Running in the third groove, your right on the ragged edge. You miss your mark by a couple inches and you’ll go for a ride. The staff puts down the coke syrup before the big events and I think it makes things more interesting. You could have your car handling good on the bottom but have someone that’s carrying the momentum on the high side go by you. Now of course this is all my own opinion but I honestly feel OPS is about being smooth and carrying that momentum.
RPM. Has the economy had an effect on your racing?
Ben. Yeah, I mean I don’t think you’ll find a team at a racetrack anywhere in the USA that won’t say the economy has affected their team one way or another. Our team, well we run on a kite string budget. Very, very, low dollar race team. But we work hard week in and week out in the shop and do our best. My father has always preached to me “We may not have very much at all, but you have to do the best you can do with what we have”. Fans know that drivers and crews have to work on their cars to be able to race every weekend. Well most don’t get the chance to see how much time and effort are put into a race car. This year was by far the hardest season for us financially in the ten years I’ve been driving. We had some misfortune and completely destroyed a car. That really set us back and at that point in time our season was done. Luckily things got worked out as that week progressed and we were able to continue driving. Our biggest problem along with a lot of teams this year was we don’t carry a lot of bigger sponsors. We have a few small ones that have helped us out a ton in the past few seasons but the majority of our funding has come out of my own pocket. Finding sponsors in today’s tough economy is so difficult. It just comes down to slow economy. This winter we have been working hard trying to find sponsors and right now we have picked up a couple and brought everyone back from last year. We continue to work hard on a daily basis but all we can do is hope for the best come spring and expect the worst.
RPM. What was it like to win your first feature late model race?
Ben. There has been a lot of big names that have crossed the stripe at oxford and took home a win. To be able to say that in 2010 we added our name to that long list is an incredible feeling. We struggled the first part of the season bad. Just couldn’t find the sweet spot in the handling with our car. 250 weekend we really turned that around. The car was great. Had a great run going but ended with severe heat stroke. The car was fast at Beech Ridge the following week and we came back the very next point’s race and hit the wall. It was a hard pill to swallow. Knowing we finally had the car going really good and it was back to square one. Luckily we got a hold of this car and the car itself is actually four years newer. It’s a distance chassis and with the newer chassis came newer technology, thankfully we took every measurement possible on our old car and converted it all into this new car and we were even faster. The car was a lot more balanced and had a great feel. Our third time out with the car we won. All the struggles we encountered the beginning portion of the season were forgotten that night. After four years to finally be in victory lane was just a relief, to know we could do it. Not me, not I, We, as in our team could compete and run up front. It just proved that if you work hard and really want it and don’t give up, you can most definitely do what you set your mind to.
RPM. With a 9th place finish for the season and a win this past season, what’s your prediction for 2011?
Ben. You know I hate to predict anything. In life you never know what lies ahead around the corner. I would like to predict a lot of big things for our team in 2011, but the reality is I can’t. I can tell you our goals for 2011 are to compete for the championship at Oxford. I feel like we will be ready to make a charge for the top spot this season. We have become a lot more consistent with the car, we learned so much at the end of last season and the team has been working there tails off, trying to get everything ready to go for this upcoming season. Some other goals of ours are to qualify for five American Canadian Tour (ACT) races. We attempted to qualify for four ACT races this past season and we raced our way in all of them. We showed that we can run with the top cars and when it comes to crunch time we can make the field. Another goal is to receive an invite to Loudon, for the invitational and qualify for the TD Bank 250. If we can meet these goals I feel like we can come home with top ten finishes. That’s our goals. championship at OPS, qualify for five ACT races and the TD Bank 250. If we can do that, then we had a stellar year. Me personally. My own personal goal I’ve set for myself is get my feet wet in a super late model. Every driver wants more speed, and a chance to run that next division up. I’m no different. I feel like I could hold my own if given the chance. But that’s my personal goal and I guess we’ll see what happens. The 2011 race season will be here before you know it.
RPM. Safety is always an issue when racing, any suggestions on how to improve the safety, whether it be in the car or in the pits?
Ben. Safety is huge in this sport. The drivers don’t realize how fast we’re going until something goes wrong and when it does go wrong things happen really quickly. The teams do the best they can to provide a safe surrounding inside the car for the drivers. There’s some teams that just plain cant afford a fancy containment seat and have to run the old style standard seats which makes the risk of getting hurt in a bad accident just a little higher. There’s a lot of things people can do to protect a driver but some teams like ours just can’t afford top of the line protection. We run an old style seat that is actually on the uncomfortable side but it’s all we have. We took all the precautions we could and we had our run in with the wall head on and the seat, belts, HANS device and gear did its job. I was able to walk away unscathed. The crew’s biggest concern is making sure the drivers going to be safe and I can only speak for myself but my concern is making sure the crews safe. Making sure there’s jack stands under the car whenever it’s off the ground, they don’t get cut or burned if we were to come in after an accident. There’s so many things you could sit back and analyze, but you just do the best you can to prevent things from happening and hope they don’t. I like that oxford is very strict with the speeding in the pits. Fans and crews cross pit lane and cars come in at a realistic speed and prevent people from becoming hood ornaments. There’s just a lot of things that could go wrong but I feel that the teams all do what they can and that’s all you can ask.
RPM. How do you handle all of the ups and downs of 2010?
Ben. How do I handle the ups and downs of this past season? Well that’s a good question. I guess I’ve never set back and thought about how I handled things or situations at or on the track. I just really try to keep a positive attitude about things because the madder you get or frustrated or even upset, you affect the people around you. I know we aren’t perfect and everybody gets upset but, I just try not to let emotions get the best of me. In my opinion when you get mad and maybe go confront a driver or accuse someone of this or that then your making a fool of yourself. It defiantly doesn’t change anything that happened. You can’t go back in time and fix it after it happened. I know I’m far from perfect and ill be the first to admit that but the team does a good job keeping there composure and just keeping there heads high and plugging away next week. Things are going to happen. It’s racing. If you don’t scratch it or dent it at some point then you’re not racing hard enough. At least that’s what I’ve always kinda told myself. 99% of the time we do a pretty good job avoiding wrecks and keeping our nose clean but everybody has there moments eventually. Just do the best we can to stay out of trouble on the track and that’s all we can do. Crap happens. No sense getting all down and upset about it. If you do something wrong takes your punishment, if you’re in the wrong place or wrong time and get in a wreck. Well there’s nothing you can do to change the outcome. Work hard in the shop and get it back the next week. In general, the race season can be a roller coaster. You have your high points and your stomach wheezing low points, but if you keep a positive attitude, keep working hard, and keep your sites set on the big picture, then nobody can bring you down.