Benjamin Smith attributes his success this year in MotoAmerica’s KTM RC Cup to experience.
In his second year, the Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, resident has four wins and sits atop the standings through 13 races.
“Now that I’ve learned all the tracks, I’ve really begun to apply what I’ve learned,” Smith, 17, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
This weekend, Smith returns to the track where he has more experience than anywhere else: New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, site of MotoAmerica’s Championship of New Jersey Presented by K&N Filters.
“I have just had so many laps there that I could ride that track in my sleep,” said Smith, whose family vacations on Long Beach Island each summer. “I just know every corner, every little bump in every corner.”
Smith won’t be the only one with that type of advantage this weekend. He is part of a group of up-and-coming riders who call NJMP their home track.
Brandon Paasch, 16, who moved up to the Supersport class after winning the KTM RC Cup championship last year, is from Freehold. Anthony Mazziotto III, 17, who finished second in the KTM RC Cup championship each of the past two seasons, is a Hammonton resident. Mazziotto attends Hammonton High School with fellow Hammonton resident Jake Leahey, 15, who is Smith’s teammate this season.
“It’s pretty cool,” Leahey said in a phone interview Thursday. “(Mazziotto) helps me a lot since he’s in a (higher) class and he raced in this class last year. We ride together all the time and train together.”
Leahey, in his first full season, had two fourth-place finishes in the first six races but has missed five in a row after a crash in an early June race in Utah left him with fluid on his spine.
He was cleared to return to the track last week, just in time for his home race.
“I’m more confident than all the other rounds because I went into all the other tracks blind, so (here) I’m more confident in my riding,” Leahey said.
He will face stiff competition from his teammate, however. Smith first rode on NJMP’s go-kart track in 2011, made his MotoAmerica debut in Millville two seasons ago and earned his first career podium when he finished third there last year.
“It’s a special racetrack to me,” Smith says. “It’s the racetrack where I’ve ridden the most, and I have some good memories there.”
With four races remaining — two this weekend at NJMP and two next weekend at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park — Smith leads the KTM RC Cup Standings by 24 points. A race win is good for 25 points and a second-place finish 20, so while Smith is unlikely to clinch the championship this weekend, he could extend his lead to make it all but a foregone conclusion.
The KTM RC Cup races will be at 4:35 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
“I’ve done more riding in the past year than in the previous years combined,” Smith says. “It’s definitely helping. With this series, it’s always such close racing that it has not only improved my overall riding but also my race craft — what to do in certain situations during the race. … The season’s going really well.”
In the Superstock 600 series, Mazziotto is eighth in the standings, but after missing five races, he returned with a win and a second-place finish in the last two. Paasch is 11th in the Supersport series, which is just two levels below the headlining Superbike class. Supersport and Superstock 600 race concurrently; their races will be at 2:25 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The Superbike class, in which MotoGP veteran Toni Elias holds a comfortable lead over Roger Hayden and defending series champion Cameron Beaubier, will race at 3:30 p.m. both days.
The NJMP race is annually heralded as drawing MotoAmerica’s biggest crowds, and the young riders who call the track home expect to have plenty of family and friends in the stands as they continue their quests to reach the Superbike level.
“I live 25 minutes from the racetrack, so I get to sleep at home in my own bed and wake up refreshed and ready to go,” Leahey said. “I feel super confident because everyone who helped me start in this, they’re all going to be there. … It’s awesome to have that support my first race back (from injury). I’m super confident, and I hope I can put it on the (podium).”