Ben Keating Goes From Selling Cars to Racing Them

Ben Keating’s unlikely journey to driving in the 24 Hours of Le Mans began nearly 14 years ago because, as he says now, “I’m difficult to buy Christmas presents for.”

Keating was a third-generation automobile dealer in South Texas, so his wife, Kathleen, thought it might be fun to buy him a track day at Texas World Speedway in College Station, where clients, many of them business people, learn about racing and get to drive fast.

He redeemed his $250 Christmas gift in 2006. He knew virtually nothing about racing. He wore shorts and tennis shoes, and he did not take a helmet (but found one before racing) or tools, borrowing a Dodge Viper from his showroom. But he enjoyed the weekend enough to know he wanted more. And by 2007, he was racing for real.

Keating, now 47, would win five national championships racing a Viper. He joined the Nascar Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series in 2011, the American Le Mans Series in 2013 and won his first two national-level sports-car races in 2013. By 2015, he was driving at Le Mans, and by 2017 he had his own team there.

“I thought I had nailed that gift,” Kathleen Keating said. “I had no idea that it would be the passion it has become. He has always loved speed, always has pushed the envelope in whatever he does.”

His team, Keating Motorsport, is returning to the race this weekend, competing in a Ford GT in the LM GTE-Am class. The Am is short for amateur; the drivers are commonly called “gentleman drivers.”

Keating is the lowest-rated driver among his three-driver team, and as a result he plans to drive for only slightly more than five of the 24 hours, the minimum required. The team finished third in its class in 2018, but was 28th overall in the field of 60. His car completed 334 laps, 54 behind the winners.

“You spend almost as much time looking out the back window as the front window,” Keating said of driving on the same track with much faster cars.

Keating, who lives in Victoria, Tex., and owns 19 dealerships, made it clear several times in a recent interview that racing is an extremely expensive sport and that he had some breaks along the way, as a car dealer and a racer. He said he learned by trial and error how to race wheel-to-wheel.

The Keating Motorsport team in action at the Le Mans Test Day in June.CreditJames Moy Photography/Getty Images

“They are capable of completely defying the laws of physics, as far as I’m concerned,” Keating said of the LMP1 cars.

His goal is to turn faster laps in the seven or eight stints over his more than five hours in the car than any similarly rated driver in the class. Bleekemolen is the team’s ace, but Keating does not want to do anything on the track to put Bleekemolen at a disadvantage.

“It’s all a strategy game,” Keating said. “We want to maximize our time in the car. Everybody’s using the same office — everybody’s using the same seat, and everybody’s using the same wheel. You depend on each other.”

The track at which Keating caught the racing bug is gone. Texas World Speedway closed in 2017, and the land was turned into the housing development Southern Pointe, described in advertisements as tranquil and family friendly.

It was not like that in the summer of 2006 when Ben Keating took his Viper there to try something he’d end up loving. He is grateful that his wife helped him turn the ignition key.

“I had the benefit of being able to grow my skill and grow my abilities to drive a racecar,” he said. “At the same time, I had the financial ability to be able to go out and afford to do that stuff.”

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