October 18, 2013

Steve Solloway: Elite runner is a gearhead

In another life Ben True would experience real speed.

By day, Ben True runs the roads near his home, training for next month’s Dash to the Finish Line 5K in New York. By night, his eyes run through websites, gleaning the information that will help him reach an important decision.

Which drivers should he select for his NASCAR fantasy team this week?

Yes, the kid who grew up in North Yarmouth to become one of America’s top distance runners on the road and track is a gearhead. True may motor through life on two legs at one-half horsepower, but he’s fascinated with the men and one woman who climb into stock cars with their 900 horsepower engines.

“I like the speed. I like the power. Watching a NASCAR race is a lot like watching a 10K on the track. The tactics, the positioning, the acceleration when you pull out to pass someone.”

So he doesn’t change running shoes as frequently as NASCAR pit crews change race tires. So he never has to slow his pace and maintain position because a yellow caution flag never waves in his races. He doesn’t worry if his brakes are overheating because he’s always in control of his body. But for True, the principles of speed and endurance are the same.

His favorite driver is Kasey Kahne, the understated 10-year veteran of the Sprint Cup Series who has 16 race victories but no season championships. “He struggled a little when he was with Dodge in his first season but he won Rookie of the Year. He usually is near the front.”

Kahne finished second at Charlotte Motor Speedway last weekend. It was his fifth runner-up finish this season, which has only five race weekends left. Kahne also has had some bad finishes and is 13th in the Chase for the Cup. Matt Kenseth, a former champ, is the series leader.

True paid attention in September to the penalties NASCAR slapped on Michael Waltrip Racing after NASCAR caught it manipulating the outcome of a race finish by one of the two team members who lost spots to benefit a third. NAPA Auto Parks subsequently ended its longtime sponsorship. The loss of a reported $15 million was a serious blow to the race team.

“It degraded the sport,” said True, referring to the manipulation of the race finish. “The only way to stop it is to make penalties extreme. Look at my sport. Normally it’s a two-year suspension for blood doping (or using banned substances). That’s not really a penalty. You take a rest for two years and come back stronger.”

A four-year ban for the first offense and a lifetime ban for the second would give a runner pause before he cheated, said True. Make penalties hurt.

True turns 28 shortly after Christmas. The years have slipped by. He was the dominant distance runner in high school while at Greely. He flourished at Dartmouth. A tick bite and Lyme Disease sapped his strength during the Olympic trials in 2012; True didn’t make the team. He’s gearing up for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“I haven’t reached my peak yet. There’s still a lot of time. I’m still learning how to run better when I’m hurting in a race. I need to learn not to be afraid of failing.”

True trained this summer with his friend, Sam Chelanga, the native of Kenya. Chelanga and his family and friends used to shop at the Westgate mall in Nairobi that was attacked by terrorists. Chelanga’s family was not there that day but it didn’t matter. The bloodshed affected Chelanga, of course. It also affected True.

After a summer of competition, mostly in Europe, True took a break. He played golf. He coached a middle-school team near Hanover, N.H. On Nov. 2, the day before the New York City Marathon, he’ll line up for a 5K race in Manhattan from the United Nations to Central Park. Eleven male and female Olympians will be in the field. It will be a good test for the man who has time to love another sport.

“I’m a big race car fan,” he said. So big, his sister gave him the gift of a NASCAR Racing Experience, which he hasn’t yet used. He’ll get quick lessons from a racing instructor, attend a drivers meeting with his crew chief, then strap into a bona fide NASCAR race car. He’ll punch the accelerator.

True doesn’t know when he’ll enjoy this fantasy world or at which speedway. The anticipation for True, a former competitive Nordic skier who enjoyed the solitude of trails, has been a thrill. He’ll have a blast.

Steve Solloway can be reached at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

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