Everyone from Mississippi or visits will quickly realize that our home state is one big small town. Our fellow neighbors "race" to help people in need. We all look after each other, take care of each other, and lift each other when there's a problem.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is one of those people who loves to lend a helping hand. Ricky is a fellow Mississippian and one of the best NASCAR drivers in the league. Since he was a baby, Ricky and his family have been immersed in racing as his dad built racing engines. He started racing at a very young age, and he's made an impressive record during his career. He won the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year and the Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year. Then in 2017, Ricky achieved a NASCAR driver's most significant win at Talladega.
Ricky is incredibly humble despite his achievements and realizes that his awards have not been earned independently. He owes much of the credit to the team of mechanics and technicians, and first responders that make his job as safe as possible.
That's why Ricky has teamed up with Ben in the workshop to build a gift for the Laurel Fire Department. Together, they will create two benches to provide an outdoor seating area and respite for the team while they enjoy their time off.
Ben said, "It is time to give our firefighters their pitstop, somewhere where they can restart their engines. Somewhere where they can recharge. What if this becomes the firehouse winner's circle?"
Ben and Ricky decide to use Poplar wood, which Ben claims is his least favorite. Poplar wood usually is a dull color, but these particular pieces are unique, as they are from the second-largest Poplar tree in Pontotoc County in Mississippi.
Ben and Ricky have been friends for a few years and share a special bond. Ricky was one of the first people to support Erin and Ben's company in the very beginning. (He has one of the original Scotsman Co. aprons!)
Ben said, "Ricky always supports people from Mississippi because they've always supported him. You know, especially his family, but also his community. He wants to give back."
From the moment Ricky was born, his life has revolved around racing. He said, "I was born at noon on a Saturday, and my dad raced that night. When I was six weeks old, my parents took me to the track." Ricky's dad always worked on race cars or engines, whether traveling to a racetrack or working in the shop. He continues, "I just looked up to my dad and everything that he did."
It was no surprise that his life would drift in that direction, and Ricky began training with his father.
Ricky said, "I started racing go-karts on dirt tracks at five years old. I grew up traveling the country and won some big races. My dad felt like I was ready to make the transition to sprint cars. A new track in Mississippi was being built, and they had a test day. I made 10 or 15 laps, and that was the last time my dad ever got in a sprint car. I think he felt like it was time to invest everything that he's learned into me."
Ricky continued, "It took a lot of sacrifice from my mom and dad. They put everything they had into it. I was racing with a guy by the name of Jeff Buckner, who had a trucking company, and he dropped all of his race car stuff off at our house and said, 'Ricky can go further than here.' It just took a lot of people being in my corner to help us go race."
Ben said, "Ricky is seriously one of the most humble people I have ever met. He's at the top of his racing game, but he never forgets where he came from and who helped him get there. It's awesome."
At the beginning of Ricky's career, there were moments when he would need more help than ever before, especially at the beginning. He said, "2010 was my full rookie year in the Nationwide Series, and it started rocky. I'd never been to some of those tracks before, and I was still fairly new to pavement stock car racing. I was pushing too hard a lot of times, and I didn't know what the cars could handle."
Ricky would spend three months in the shop learning the ins and outs of his car and watching the team's effort behind each build. His hardwork paid off when he won Rookie of the Year at the end of the season.
He said, "We ended up coming back from way behind to win Rookie of the Year that year. That's another thing I love about racing; there's always a chance to get better and trying to figure something else out."
His biggest win would come only a few years later when he qualified and won Talledega.
Ricky shared, "We worked on our Talladega car for a good while, and we were set on the pole. We had a really fast car, and it showed throughout the race. I was able to do things that other drivers weren't able to do."
He said, "It was cool to get my first win finally, and my dad was there. He normally doesn't cry very much, but he lost it that day. My dad started racing when he was 22 years old, and he put a lot of effort into me. So I can tell all of that came to him at one time. It was cool. It made me choke up and get emotional about it. It was like, wow, all that hard work that we put in as a family has led here."
After they completed the project, Ben and Ricky delivered the benches to the Laurel Fire Department. The firefighters were highly appreciative to be gifted with such a thoughtful and beautiful space to enjoy.
Ben said, "The cool thing about this bench is that it is 100% Mississippi made. We have a tree from Pontotoc County, a racing Stock Car champion from Olive Branch, Mississippi, and a woodworker from Laurel, Mississippi, all coming together and building this thing. That makes me proud, and we're giving it to some of the best people this state has to offer."
We're so thankful for Ricky and his love for giving back to the Laurel community. Be sure to stop by the Scotsman General Store and Woodshop to see what Ben makes next and watch new episodes of Ben's Workshop on Discovery+ now!