When the Louisville Holy Cross High School Class of 2015 receives its diplomas Friday night, Ben Rhodes will miss his graduation ceremony.
Rhodes, 18, will be in Newton, Iowa, preparing to make his debut driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at the Iowa Speedway.
"Oh, he is OK," Lori Rhodes said of her son's feelings on missing his high school graduation. "Ben's always been OK with missing anything as long as it is for racing."
When the green flag drops at 2 p.m. Sunday (EDT) on the 3M 250, it will be the first of 10 Xfinity (formerly Nationwide) Series races in which Rhodes is scheduled to pilot the No. 88 car for Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports.
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A year ago, Rhodes stamped himself as a NASCAR up-and-comer by winning five times and claiming the season championship in the K&N Pro Series East (in baseball terms, think low Class A).
That performance helped Rhodes land a "foot in the door" opportunity driving a partial 2015 schedule for Dale Jr. in the Xfinity Series. Rhodes is sharing the 88 car with a veritable all-star team of Sprint Cup standouts: Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Earnhardt Jr. himself.
In nine Xfinity races so far this year, Harvick has wheeled the 88 five times and has two wins and a third. Earnhardt Jr. has driven three times with a best finish of third. Kahne drove two weeks ago at Talladega and came in 33rd after getting caught in an accident.
Ben Rhodes acknowledged feeling both excitement and pressure at sharing a car with a Who's Who of NASCAR stars.
"I'm very eager to get in the race car and prove myself," he said. "At the same time, I know I am in with the All-Star group. They are going to perform. They are going to win a bunch of races. I've got to try to impress them. I don't know if I will win races, but I've got to try to impress them."
While finishing up high school, Ben Rhodes has been attending Xfinity Series races. He's hung out in the JR Motorsports garage and intently listened to the in-race radio chatter between veteran drivers Harvick and Earnhardt Jr. and No. 88 crew chief Dave Elenz.
His car owner has been impressed.
"He's really done a lot when it comes to being accountable at the races and standing there and trying to be a sponge to the information that is available to him when we're practicing," Earnhardt Jr. said during a test session at Kentucky Speedway last month.
"I've seen him at every (Xfinity) race I've been at. At the races I drove this year, he's been in the garage asking questions. In between practice runs, he's standing there listening and asking questions. ... He wants to be as prepared as possible."
For Rhodes to use his chance driving for Earnhardt Jr. to launch his career toward the Sprint Cup Series, two things need to happen.
In the 10 races he is scheduled to drive this year, Rhodes needs to show that he can be nearly as fast in the 88 as Harvick, Dale Jr. and Kahne are when they are in the car.
"If he can show speed, car owners like that," said Jeff Burton, the former Sprint Cup star and soon-to-be NBC NASCAR race analyst. "They figure they can fix other stuff, but if you are not fast they can't fix that. So Ben, he doesn't necessarily (need to) finish as good (as the Cup stars), but can he show that speed?"
The other thing that will have to fall in place for Rhodes' career arc to continue to climb is more sponsorship money. Earnhardt Jr. said that, in a perfect world, Rhodes would be full-time in a car for JR Motorsports in 2016. For that to happen, a primary sponsor willing to foot the bill for a full season of racing has to be acquired.
"We're looking for a good, long-term sponsor," said Joe Rhodes, Ben's father. "We'd like to partner with a good, strong Louisville company, a good strong Kentucky company, a company really interested in using Ben as a means to reach his 15-25 (years old) peer group."
Starting this weekend in Iowa, Ben Rhodes has 10 auditions to show what he can do.
As for his missed graduation ceremony, Lori Rhodes said that Holy Cross President Tim Weihe plans to travel to Iowa Speedway and present Ben with his diploma during driver introductions Sunday afternoon.
Ben Rhodes will then drive Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car in a race for the first time.
As graduation weekends go, does it get any better than that?