They’re calling him 'Bud Rhodes' after Friday night.
It was roughly an hour after Ben Rhodes crossed the finish line at Phoenix Raceway as Camping World Truck Series champion, and the party was well underway. The 24-year-old was an unknown number of beers into his celebration as he made his way into the media center for a round with the press.
"I’m sorry but this is going to be the weirdest press conference ever," Rhodes said.
The experience harkened back to Brad Keselowski in 2012 after winning the Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway and celebrating with a literal chalice of his sponsor’s best product after the night.
Then walked in crew chief Rich Lushes.
"Well, hey crew chief," Rhodes said. "How's it going? I had like a lot of Bud Lights without you. You should've been there."
Lushes might have had enough on the stage when he was subjected to a 'shooey' by his driver. That’s Formula 1 vernacular for drinking champagne out of a racing boot. It’s completely disgusting, but if there was ever a moment to partake, this would be it.
"He doesn't want to talk about it, because it's nasty, but guess what, we're going to tell (the media) all about it," Rhodes said. "So, I'm an F1 fan and I think it's a very entertaining form of motorsport. I love all motorsports, so here's the deal.
"We were at the shop before Martinsville and we were making stupid bets, and I said, 'Okay, if we win, you have to do a shooey with my sweaty boot.' The best part is that it was a one-sided bet and I didn't have to give up anything at all."
Not that it mattered, of course, because they won the championship. Still, Lushes tried to turn Rhodes down three times before the veteran short track and NASCAR crew chief gave in.
"You did a waterfall, which I don't think helped anything," Rhodes said. Okay, it was well worth it. Wasn't it? Yeah. I love that guy. I love you. Yeah, thanks. It grossed me out. So, I didn't do it."
The 2021 Truck Series championship was very much about the story of Rhodes and Lushes. This is the sixth full-time season Rhodes has competed at the Truck Series level, all with ThorSport Racing, but with a myriad of crew chiefs like Eddie Traconis, Matt Noyce and Kevin Bellicourt.
Lushes, who most recently served as truck chief for the No. 13 with Johnny Sauter, immediately identified the different approach needed to get the most out of his new driver.
"Before, I felt like the group of guys he had pushed him to get the absolute most out of the truck every lap, like qualifying laps, and maybe missing the big picture," Lushes said. "All year long, we preached getting to the end of races and not putting ourselves in bad situations...
"I feel like he's gained so much maturity this year (in that) if we had a fifth-place truck, he finished fifth with it. If it was a 10th place truck, he'd put it in 10th and we'd work on it. Before that, we'd try to get a 10th place truck to eighth and we'd get a DNF out of it."
To that point, Rhodes was the only driver to be running at the end of every race in 2021.
Rhodes had won three times before this season but opened his first campaign with Lushes with back-to-back wins at Daytona and the Daytona Road Course. He finished the regular season second in the standings with a career best average finish. That carried into the playoffs too.
Rhodes led the final four throughout most of the night but was passed by Zane Smith at the start of the third and final stage. Rhodes never lost confidence in his crew chief or their collective game plan. Lushes apologized for adding too much air pressure, tightening his truck up during the penultimate run, while the driver conceded the track had much to do with the changing conditions too.
Meanwhile, Rhodes couldn’t really talk to his team either. His radio transmission button would get stuck every time he tried to talk to Lushes, and the team had to pretty much guess what he needed based on what limited conversations they had before.
Their belief in each other never wavered during the final stage and Rhodes used a long run and lapped traffic to track Smith back down and make the championship winning pass with seven laps to go.
"So, I watched Zane Smith and all these people drive away from me and I'm freaking out in the inside because we had radio issues and I couldn't talk to them," Rhodes said. "So, I'm like really angry. I was. … And let me say something since I have the mic and we won. I can say this now.
"This is how it went down. I said, Zane Smith, this is checkers or wreckers and I’m going to blow the motor trying to catch you."
He didn’t need to blow the motor, but the championship winning pass required a little contact between the two.
There was a time that Ben Rhodes was labeled a Cup Series prospect. He captured the 2014 K&N East championship over the likes of Daniel Suarez, Gray Gaulding, Jesse Little and Brandon Jones -- all national touring full-timers.
Rhodes found an immediate home with ThorSport Racing and through all the number changes and crew chief changes, he was a Duke and Rhonda Thorson driver through and through.
"I wouldn’t even be here today if it wasn’t for Duke and Rhonda," Rhodes said. "They gave me my opportunity in the sport. They were my very first full-time national series team that I raced for and I’ve been with them ever since. They are so amazing, and I can’t even begin to thank them enough.
"This has just been the ride of a lifetime and I hope it’s not over. This is a feeling you get and savor for the rest of your life, but you’re hungry for more. I love this, but I love racing even more and Daytona can’t get here fast enough."
This was the fourth time a ThorSport driver claimed the championship, the first time it wasn’t with fellow final four contender Matt Crafton, but also the organization’s first owner’s championship.
Similar to Crafton, who has been with ThorSport since 2000, Rhodes is content to become a Truck Series lifer with ThorSport if the right opportunity never presents itself.
He is dedicated to this team, improving within its confines, and that isn’t lost on team executive Allison Thorson -- Duke and Rhonda’s daughter.
"When any driver stops learning or growing, regardless of what division you've made it to, that's the moment you stop growing or expanding," Thorson said. "So, I think Ben came to us with one goal that came to mind. It's similar to Matt in that they're happy where they're at and those who stay will be champions. That’s our motto.
"Ben is in our shop every week, the following Monday, and he has friendships with everyone on the team. He has developed patience and consistency, and when you have that combination, that's dangerous. That's where Ben is at right now."
The Final Four also included John Hunter Nemechek, who dominated the season with five wins, but suffered an early setback at Phoenix when Tate Fogleman hit his Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 and cut a tire that cost them two laps.
Nemechek ran out of time, ultimately finishing seventh, but Rhodes went on to tell the tale of how he won the championship -- even if it was the weirdest press conference ever.
"I feel like I made a lot of friends tonight," Rhodes said to the media as he left the room. "You're my crew now. You're all the best."
Ben ‘Bud Light’ Rhodes -- King of Trucks.