November 23, 2011 - Like father, like son.
OMS sixth-grader Ben Varner is ready for bigger cars and bigger trophies. (click for larger version)
In the world of auto racing, such combinations of Mario and Michael Andretti, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Lee and Richard Petty are just a few of the most successful father/son duo's in the history of the sport.
Now, Oxford Middle School sixth grader Ben Varner, 11, is looking to follow in his father's, Tom Varner, footsteps as a professional stock car driver.
Tom said as long as Ben is having fun, he will support his son all the way.
"I didn't push him into it, but he seems to like it and he is good at it," Tom said. "I'm happy and I'm having fun working on the car and he is having fun driving and it is a great kind of father/son deal. We take off for three day weekends, so it's kind of a fun way to spend time together."
Currently Ben is tearing up the go-kart circuit as he won the 2011 Great Lakes Sprint Series Championship, which consists of 10 races over five race weekends at road course tracks in South Bend, IN, Camden, OH, Beaverun, PA, Circleville, OH and New Castle, IN.
During the Great Lakes season, Ben won four feature races and qualified for four pole positions. He finished in the top three in every race except two, when he crashed.
According to Tom, the Great Lakes Sprint Series is one of the most prestigious kart racing series in the country. Fellow alumni include NASCAR star Danica Patrick and Indy Racing League star Sam Hornish Jr.
Ben also finished second in the East Lansing Kart Championship.
"It's been a good season. I've won two national kart races, I've gotten eight pole positions in the national and regional levels and I won one race at East Lansing Kart Track," Ben said.
Auto racing is something Ben has been around since he was born.
"I just kind of grew up watching races and driving my Nascar game and I had a little electronic gator that I drove around alot," Ben said.
He didn't actually catch the racing bug until his father took him to a go-kart track in East Lansing.
"We went and I thought it was pretty cool," Ben recalled. So Tom purchased a go kart for Ben and "off they went."
Ben started out competing in the club levels at the East Lansing Kart Track, and from there he worked his way up the ranks.
"It evolved from East Lansing to regional races and then up to nationals," Ben said.
He admitted the most anxious he gets is before the drop of the green flag.
"Just going two wide into 30 degree turn going 70 miles an hour, it's crazy," he said.
Ben explained he usually races on 1/2 mile to one mile road courses. "There aren't many full throttle turns. They are about 30 degrees to 90 degrees, and there is usually about 10 or 12 of them."
According to Ben, weather doesn't usually play a factor. If it is raining, he and his father put on rain tires and send Ben out to race. Ben said the only time a race does get called is if the rain or snow begins to come down at a heavy rate.
Ben said racing has helped him in school by making him more mature and smarter.
"Just because of strategy and having to work with people in the draft and seeing when you have to pass to get the win or when you have to stay behind," he explained.
Ben said if given the chance, he would choose racing in Indy cars over stock cars. "Indy cars have more history, I've been to Indy car races. They go faster. It just seems like it is more wild to watch because they are open wheel, and one little touch will send you flying."
One of the highlights of his racing career was meeting and getting an autograph Indy Car driver Dan Whelden, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, during an event in September.
Wheldon passed away in a tragic accident following a wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Oct. 16.
Ben's mother, Beth, had nothing but good things to say about Wheldon.
"He is a great guy, very nice, very personable," Beth Varner said. "The day that he had his accident...I was in tears because all of a sudden he was a person to me because we met him and spent three, four days with him and it hit us real hard."
"He wasn't stuck up," Tom said. "Here was a two-time Indy winner and he was just walking around chatting with everybody."
Up next for Ben is a December 11 trip to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN to compete in his first ever indoor go-kart race.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.