DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A 16-year-old late model driver, who races for a member of a famed racing family, will get a shot to test his skills in a new discipline this week.
Daniel Dye, who races for Ben Kennedy Racing in the Southeastern short-track scene, has been issued one of 50 invitations to compete in the IMSA iRacing Pro Series, which kicked off in March at the virtual Sebring Int’l Raceway and continues Thursday night at a simulated WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Dye’s team owner, Ben Kennedy, is the fourth generation of the France family — which owns both NASCAR and IMSA. Thus, logic would suggest Dye as a natural fit for the IMSA iRacing Pro Series.
At the very least, “it probably didn’t hurt my chances any,” he said with a laugh.
“So my teammate or coach for this deal is actually (two-time Prototype champion) Joao Barbosa,” Dye noted. “And Scott Taylor, who’s worked a lot in sports cars and with (American Flat Track rider) Shayna Texter … he’s gotten me involved in a lot of things over the past couple of years since I’ve been racing. Last week I woke up to a text in a group chat with me, my dad and Scott, that Scott was able to work with IMSA and get me a spot in their Pro Invitational, which was crazy to think about.”
Taylor handled the marketing duties for Spirit of Daytona Racing during that team’s tenure in North American road racing and continues to serve in that role for Texter’s American Flat Track program, as well as for Action Express Racing in IMSA competition.
As fate would have it, Spirit of Daytona was connected to Dye’s IMSA iRacing Pro Series invitation, too.
“There’s so many little pieces to all this that helped make it happen, really. This thing is even funnier when you consider that we (Ben Kennedy Racing) share a shop with Spirit of Daytona,” Dye explained. “They don’t do much in sports car racing now, but they did for quite a while and were really good when they were in IMSA on a regular basis. So there’s actually a lot of different sports car-related ties around my racing program, but I was never a road racer. I guess now I am.”
Since learning of his invite, Dye — who has raced in late models for the last two years under Kennedy’s guidance —has spent a good bit of time on iRacing trying to adapt to the Ferrari 488 GTE he’ll pilot at the simulated version of Laguna Seca’s 2.238-mile, 11-turn circuit.
It’s been an adventure, he admitted.
“I’ve just been turning laps; that’s how you get better, right?” Dye said. “It’s so different than the late models that I’m used to, so there’s a lot to try and figure out in a short amount of time, but I’m putting everything I can into it in hopes that we can come out of there with a clean finish, at the very least.”
Dye’s entry will carry the branding of both Ben Kennedy Racing and Halifax Health Medical Center, with a special thank you on the hood to all the medical professionals at work trying to treat those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Considering his lack of road-racing experience, he has set modest goals entering Thursday’s event.
His main objective? Enjoy the ride.
“I really don’t have any expectations for any of this, you know? The top 25 in points makes it into the next show, so that’s my goal,” he said. “I don’t really know who’s good in this deal, to be honest, so I can’t say who my competition is or isn’t. What I do know is that I have a good coach. Barbosa and his son both are really good at iRacing, so that’ll probably help me out. Hopefully it works out well, but I don’t really have any true benchmark for how we’ll do. I’d like to do well, obviously, but if I don’t, I’m not going to be crying about it.
“It is just really cool to be invited to this. Scott’s awesome and the fact that he got me in on this deal is pretty neat,” he added. “I’m really excited to be a part of it and whatever I can do to make him, and everyone involved in our team look good as well, I’m going to try to do. As long as I don’t embarrass myself and I can learn something out of all this, I feel like we’ll be alright and it’ll have been worth it.”
Thursday’s IMSA iRacing Pro Series event from the virtual WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca goes green at 6 p.m. ET and will be streamed live on the iRacing eSports Network.