Back-to-Back: Ben Keating claims second straight SRT Viper Cup title.
"Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday." It's not just a catchy marketing phrase or cliché to Ben Keating, but rather a way of life. The native of Tomball, Texas, operates eight car dealerships, including four Chrysler Group LLC dealers, during the week, and races a Viper ACR-X in the SRT® Viper Cup Presented by Pennzoil® Ultra on the weekends - and wins, which in turn helps business. Keating recently claimed his second straight SRT Viper Cup championship in dominating fashion, winning half of the races contested.
"Winning a title is always special," said Keating. "Winning the championship this year was a little different from last year. We had finished second in the inaugural year (2010) and that really whet my appetite even more to win. Last year we did a lot of testing and got set-ups really perfected and I improved my driving as well. It was really special to win that first one. This year we had a strong performance all year long by the team and just had a great time. It's a great group of people we race against in the Viper Cup Series and it's really enjoyable."
The 41-year-old kicked off the 2012 campaign with a four-race win streak. He took each of the first two rounds at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia, and continued his hot streak at the famed Road America circuit in Wisconsin, winning rounds three and four. He came up just one spot short in his bid for five straight victories to open the year, finishing second in the opener at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). Keating would come home fifth in the weekend finale at VIR.
"It was definitely unexpected to open the year with the four wins," he explained. "You really can't go in expecting to win four races in a row. All of the experience that we had from the last few years certainly played into that and it really changed the game. We had a set-up ready each race and were all dialed in and really came out of the gate strong."
Keating's absence from Victory Lane didn't last too long, as he returned to the winner's circle in the seventh round at Monticello Motor Club in New York. In the weekend finale of that event, he would suffer a flat tire, which would relegate him to an eighth-place showing, his only finish outside of the top-five all season.
"The competition got stiffer towards the end of the year," Keating noted. "With the reward/weight system used in the Viper Cup, my car got heavier later in the year. The on-track racing was definitely more competitive toward the end of the year. Winning the first four races of the year gave us a large cushion, which made the second half of the season more relaxing."
The Texan would complete the season in impressive fashion at Watkins Glen International in New York. After a runner-up finish in round nine, he would win the season finale to record his fifth victory of the year and locked up his second consecutive series title.
When the final stats were tallied, Keating earned five wins and nine top-five finishes in 10 starts in 2012. He had an average finish of 2.3, which was the best in the series. Keating scored three of his wins on the second day of the two-day weekends, with the field inverted by finish from the day before, meaning he started at the back of the back, making the triumphs even more impressive, knowing that he had to pass the entire field to get to the front.
"It's fun starting at the back for the second race of the weekend," he shared. "As a racer you enjoy the competition. You look forward to the strategy and race craft. When you qualify on the pole and start up front, and quickly pull away, you are just making laps and it's not as much fun. Having the inversion, you have to work on how to chase people down and where to pass them and how to pass them smartly. It just makes the race more interesting and a lot more fun."
Along with competing against a host of Viper Cup regulars, Keating took to the track with a number of celebrity/guest drivers in 2012, including: professional wrestler/football player-turned-actor Bill Goldberg, veteran open wheel racer Richie Hearn, multi-time Trans-Am champion and current SRT Viper GTS-R driver Tommy Kendall, Canadian television personality Peter Klutt, author Burt Levy, experienced road racer Shane Lewis, actor/stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott and Hall of Fame road racer Elliott Forbes-Robinson.
"I really enjoyed racing against the professional racers like Tommy Kendall and Shane Lewis," Keating said. "Those guys are quick and I enjoy the competition. I like the adrenaline and stress of wondering, 'How am I going to stack up against these guys?' For me, it was great to have the really quick professional drivers come out and hop in a Viper ACR-X and run with us. The celebrity drivers were great to be around as well."
Keating, who has finished first or second in the standings in each of the first three years of the SRT Viper Cup, is looking to expand his racing horizons in 2013. He recently tested at the famed Daytona International Speedway in Florida, in preparation for the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, an event he has competed in twice. Keating also raced with the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) in the 2011 edition of Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, and is exploring all options for 2013.
"My plan is to see how I stack up at the next level," deadpanned Keating. "I want to continue to improve my skills and race against people that are a little better than me. I'm looking for an opportunity at the next level. The Viper Cup Series has been a phenomenal proving ground for me."