Career Track?

While Famous is still just 7 years old, the concept of making a career out of racing is very real. Kids latch onto something they love and want to continue it forever, but there is a harsh reality in racing. “You know, it’s something my wife and I struggle with. Making a career out of racing is so difficult,” says Rhodes. “Look at all the major sports, every year the NFL drafts 400 candidates out of college. Baseball drafts something like 720 kids a year, to potentially make it into the minors. Racing NASCAR, Indy, and others, there are just a couple of drivers that make it up. We are talking a handful. So we have tried to instill in Famous a real understanding that this is a tough road.

“He wants to make a run out of it, so we want to give him every opportunity to show his skills beforehand. I would love to see him make it up to dirt track racing to where he can have something to enjoy on the weekends and call his own. And have a professional career outside of racing. But he is dead set on this is what he wants to do.”

The Best Approach

Since Famous runs both USAC .25 and QMA, Rhodes Sr. had the opportunity to strike up a relationship with Kevin Miller at USAC who introduced him to Ken Rice, who coached, among others, some guy named Jeff Gordon. “I met the guy and it was like a done deal,” says Rhodes. “It was a relationship made in heaven. He could put the cars together, could help train Famous, and provide him a way to explore his passion. It’s been no looking back since.”

Getting on Rice’s program was a no-brainer for Rhodes. “I think it takes away when you’re the dad trying to coach your son. It really hurts you at times because it’s a different bond when you start playing that game with your kid of this is how you should do that. Meanwhile, the kid is feeling something totally different. Having Rice has really allowed me to enjoy more of the sport and just be the mechanic as opposed to being everything for Famous.”

Rhodes says not only is the training aspect of bringing up a young racer important, but it’s critical. “We are very committed to not just the cars and equipment for Famous to be successful, but we invest in training for him. So many times I see parents neglect the coaching components and the kids don’t get the fundamentals. It’s a natural step to want to do, but so few people do it. We have been lucky to have Team Rice and Ken Rice help us with those elements so we can build the fundamentals for Famous which has led us to some success in the short term.”

Coach Rice

Ken Rice is a legend in Quarter Midget racing, having done just about everything there is to do in the club including being President. He loves kids and wants to see them do the best they can, but he is a no-nonsense type of guy. “This is the way it is, if you want me to help you then that’s it,” he says. There is no discussion.

But there is a reason for his approach. “You can only teach a child as long as they are having fun and enjoying it. You can’t force them to learn. The old saying is ‘you can pull a rope but you can’t push it.’ As long as the child wants to learn and is having fun, they are going to learn like little sponges and they are going to learn faster than you can teach them. They’re all different and there is no set formula. It’s got to come from them. I ask them what they like about racing and if it’s winning then we are OK if it’s going out and watching the birds fly by, then we got a problem.”

Rice teaches something he calls reactionary, explaining that he wants his students to react to the situation; he doesn’t want them to think at all. “I don’t want the parents to sit down and tell them how to drive because it’s not gonna work. You have to teach them how to be a robot, and they are not robots. They are individuals; they have to react to something. If you and I are sitting here talking and somebody puts a cigarette in the ash tray, we are engrossed in the conversation, you reach over and set your hand on that cigarette you can’t have to say, ‘Boy, that’s hot. I better move my hand, I don’t want to burn myself,’ you yank your hand away. That’s the reaction I’m looking for. I’m not looking for someone to think about it.”

Rice says that kids racing QMA have just thousandths of a second to make a decision and they have to make several of those per lap. You can’t slow them down by asking them, “What were you thinking?” And parents have a habit of doing that.

“I was watching a thing on Jeff Gordon a year ago, he moved from the inside of the track to the outside passed a car, then bounced back to the bottom,” says Rice. “After the race one of the announcers said how did you do that? And he said, ‘I don’t know.’”

He didn’t know he just did it, that’s what Rice teaches and he does it through trust. “In order to maintain that trust, you can’t fib with them or joke with them (students),” says Rice. “You gotta tell it to them straight once and then get rid of it, you’re done with it. If they don’t believe it, it’s not gonna work.”

“Each child is different. I teach each one a little different but one of the important things is to listen to them. Little Famous is right on. He looks at me with those big eyes, what I tell him goes right in and then he goes out does it.”

The Results

Over some 54 years of teaching, Rice’s methods and philosophies have helped dozens upon dozens of racers up their game, many to the level of Jeff Gordon. Now Rice’s son and grandson help continue the legacy that he created and Little Famous Rhodes is one of his shining students.

At 8 years old, Rhodes already has four National Championships, something many 9 year olds only dream about. The kid has also won more than 30 features and heats since starting racing in 2009, including the 2010 and 2011 Western Grands, as well as two wins at Gasoline Alley at the Little Brickyard in both Junior Animal and Junior Stock [USAC .25], all major races in Quarter Midget competition.

The Future

When it comes to the future for Famous Rhodes, his father has a very defined, very conservative plan that we here at Circle Track think can help out many parents of young racers. “I really want him to continuing honing the skills in Quarter Midgets for the next two years. He needs to continue developing the basics fundamentals in the sport.

“By the time he’s 10 I’d like to see him in the fastest versions of Quarter Midgets that they allow. From there, I would love to get him into 5/8 Sprints here locally (California). Then try to move into USAC Midgets on asphalt, to build that skill set, and then eventually USAC Midgets on dirt. I think from now to five years, when he is 12, he needs to stay in that bracket. Sure, I’d love to get him in Late Models because there are 12- to 15-year-olds, but I want to hold him off. That day will come, so I don’t need to rush it.”

Notice he says that he doesn’t need to rush it. Great advice that could help a lot of racers out there today.

Ken Rice
20922 Locust St.
CA  94541