NASCAR Names Steve O’Donnell Chief Operating Officer; Ben Kennedy Moves To Role In Competition

(Press Release from NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications)

Steve O’Donnell (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

NASCAR today announced two key executive leadership moves, promoting Steve O’Donnell to Chief Operating Officer and returning Ben Kennedy to the Competition team where he will assume a key leadership position as Senior Vice President, Racing Development & Strategy.

“With more than 25 years of NASCAR experience across a variety of disciplines, Steve O’Donnell has earned the respect of the entire industry, and his collaborative leadership in the competition space has positioned the sport for incredible growth for years to come,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR president. “In a short time, Ben Kennedy has proven to be an innovative, thoughtful leader with bold ideas and a tireless work ethic. He returns to his competition roots with this new role, one in which he will no doubt excel.”

As COO, O’Donnell will continue to provide oversight of all NASCAR Competition and Racing Operations, while adding Track Operations and Strategic Development to his purview. With these added duties, all NASCAR-owned track properties, track presidents and respective events fall under O’Donnell’s responsibilities. 

As Chief Racing Development Officer since 2014, O’Donnell guided vital innovative advancements, including the introduction of the development of the Next Gen car, the implementation of the new Playoff format for all three of NASCAR’s national series and the enhanced race format system that was implemented in 2017.

O’Donnell has worked in various areas in the company since joining NASCAR in 1996 as a marketing services representative. After being promoted to manage that group – including work on NASCAR’s 50th Anniversary project – he was elevated to Director of Series Marketing. From there, he moved to Competition as Managing Director of Events and Operations to head the All-American Series and Touring Series before being promoted to Vice President of Racing Operations in charge of the national series. In 2008, he was named to Sports Business Journal’s prestigious “Forty Under 40” list.

“NASCAR is in a prime position for growth, and I look forward to helping our talented team continue the work necessary to build our sport,” O’Donnell said. “I am deeply passionate about NASCAR, its fans and those who work in our industry. Together, we will continue the unprecedented collaboration to ensure our sport’s success.”

In returning to NASCAR’s Competition team, Kennedy will maintain oversight of the national series schedule development, while assuming immediate oversight of Racing Operations, Track Services/Transportation/Officiating, Industry Relations and the NASCAR Touring & Weekly Series. He will work with O’Donnell in managing the areas of at-track competition and racing innovation.

Ben Kennedy (Photo: NASCAR)

Kennedy, a former race car driver who competed at the ARCA Menards Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series levels, has held a variety of positions within NASCAR since leaving the driver’s seat following the 2017 season. Kennedy began his corporate career as General Manager of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series before a promotion to Managing Director, Racing Operations and International Development. 

Most recently, Kennedy held the position of Senior Vice President, Strategy & Innovation, where he helped guide overall company strategy, including developing the most dynamic NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 50 years in 2021 and innovating the Busch Light Clash by building a quarter-mile oval inside the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in February of 2022.

“I am excited to return to the Competition team and continue to learn from some of the most innovative leaders across our sport,” Kennedy said. “The racing this season with the Next Gen car is some of the best we’ve ever seen. It is truly an exciting time in NASCAR, and I look forward to helping this talented team grow our sport.”

Both O’Donnell and Kennedy will assume their new roles effective immediately.


  1. if these guys have such a great record,, why are the modifieds slipping away from nascar???

  2. These are cup level officials making cup level decisions. They have absolutely nothing to do with any modified decisions. Not everything has to be about the modifieds.

  3. Stuart A Fearn says

    This is about the guys making the deals and decisions that have to do with B’s, that’s Billions. Modifieds are about thousands and these guys give it that much thought I’d have to guess, not really knowing the facts of the situation. Just my opinion from here on the sofa

  4. People who think the NASCAR top management cares about anything with the modified tour are the same ones that think the president wakes up in the morning and decides how much gas is going to cost that day.

  5. 30ish Ben Kennedy’s resume:

    – The great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.
    -son of NASCAR executive Lesa France Kennedy
    – his uncle Brian, the sanctioning body’s former Chairman & Chief Executive Officer

    Hey it’s a private company, nepotism thrives there and they can do whatever the hell they like.
    Does corporate inbreeding hurt them from a talent and creativity standpoint?
    Who care’s it’s their company and they make money. They must right?

  6. Doug that a little dishonest about Ben Kennedy.

    He ran K&N east and Truck races half a decade ago. I’m not going to say he didn’t use family money at all, but he sure as hell didn’t use it to any level that he could. Topped out at the turner-scott and GMS level truck teams. Again, i doubt his team ever worried about money, but im sure he was exposed to alot of it with friends/teammates

    On the business side of things, he was the truck series GM in 2017. One of the first projects he worked on was the Ilmor NT1 spec engine for the truck series. Something that has worked pretty darn well and definitely has made the truck series a whole lot more healthy the past couple of years.

    In 2020 he was vice president of racing development. In March when the world blew up, he was one of the major people, along with odonnel and miller, in charge of the re-constructed schedule. 85 versions of the schedule later, they both returned to “play” before any other sport and ran full schedules that finished on time for their 4 major series.

    He was also the lead on the 2021 and 2022 schedules. He brought in Bristol dirt, COTA, Road America, Gateway, Nashville, and the La Coliseum among others. You may not love each track, but I think the sport is in a lot better off with that then the decade before, when a major schedule change was flip flopping a date between 2 cookie cutters. Im sure he will play a big part at finding a way to get Nashville fairgrounds and North Wilksboro back on the schedule when those projects are done too. As well as any other future schedule changes.

    Sure, nepotism got him the job. But idk how anyone can look at the stuff he has done and not think he is one of the good ones as of now.

  7. Thank you for that pretty terrific reply.
    “Dishonest”. I don’t think that was the word you were looking for. Snarky would be more accurate or even petty. Conclusions faulty perhaps but not dishonest in any respect.
    Don’t we all wish we could have such a life? Essentially from High School, through college up through 2017 Kennedy’s life worked something like this. He could drive and/or own race cars and compete in any of the higher levels of NASCAR he chose to with little concern for raising the money to make it all possible.
    Kind of a helter-skelter career at that flitting from one thing to another with questionable success.
    Apparently in 2017 the light bulb went on and he concluded that it was time to grow up and get a regular job like most adults. Luckily with the family connection he was able to avoid paying his dues with some sort of entry level position and went right into higher level management. What followed was a series of position moves that could only be termed as meteoric they happened so fast and with precision like regularity.

    January 30, 2018, Kennedy was named General Manager of the Camping World Truck Series

    January 2019 promoted to Managing Director, Racing Operations and International Development.

    January 2020 promoted to Vice President of Racing Development,

    July 2020 promoted to the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives,[4] where he oversaw racing development initiatives for all three national series

    In June 2021, named the Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation, reporting directly to Steve Phelps, the President of NASCAR

    March 2022, Senior Vice President of Racing Development and Strategy

    Being a closed corporation it’s hard to know how big NASCAR is but near as I can figure it has revenues between 1 and 3 billion and 1500 full time employees. In a traditional merit based corporation there is no way to circumvent the normal career path including fast tracked hires mainly because it just takes time to learn all there is to learn for even the best and brightest. As a prince in the NASCAR monarchy Kennedy was able to jump the queue based on blood line as opposed to merit. All pretty typical for family operations just a little more noticeable considering the size and scope of NASCAR.
    If you’ve worked in family companies you probably have a good idea of how this works. The family member gets put into a position they may not have earned or be qualified for That’s all understood by the employees that have worked in the organization for years or decades knowing it’s part of their job description to fill in the blanks as necessary for the young prince or princess until they can do it on their own. The bigger the corporation the more blanks there are to fill in.
    October 7, 2021 there was a press release about Kennedy published in RaceDayCt. The purpose of it as is the case with this one is to give Kennedy credibility as a functional decision maker the NASCAR racing community can have faith in. Complete with name dropping and associations with various events and decisions that were made in Kennedy’s brief career framed as successes that Kennedy played a crucial roll in if not initiated.
    While it is true that decisions like converting Bristol to dirt and the race at the Coliseum got higher then normal attention there’s no way anyone can know if they were a success from a financial or investment perspective. It’s a family business, there is no visibility to anything they do. They can throw money at literally anything and if it gets attention declare it a success.
    NASCAR’s job is promotion and the NASCAR press releases here in part is promoting Kennedy and the decisions to put him in high level jobs. I accept it as reality but am skeptical about Kennedy earning any of them nor the notion that he played a key roll as the point man in so many expensive, high profile decisions. Nor that any of them were analysis based strategic successes and the best that could be made at the time.
    NASCAR has a long track record and you all can judge for yourself if they have been well managed and based on that management are as good as they can be at this point in time. The only thing I find distasteful is NASCAR spoon feeding the racing public this self serving tripe trying to spin a prince into a natural born business leader then having it regurgitated back as a fact in a comment like it’s actually true.

  8. “While it is true that decisions like converting Bristol to dirt and the race at the Coliseum got higher then normal attention there’s no way anyone can know if they were a success from a financial or investment perspective.”

    For something like that, I’m not sure if there is a cut and dry way to determine that. Lets look at LA for example. Something like 70% of the tickets sold were to people that NASCAR has no record of ever attending a race. The product being viable also probably makes it a lot easier to approach other arenas around the world to do the same thing in the future. Bristol dirt was something fox wanted very badly. Doing things like that for the TV partner right as the next TV deal is starting to be negotiated isn’t insignificant for those talks. That kind of stuff is very hard to place a true value on.

    Having the clash at Daytona and a normal concrete Bristol race very well might have led to more short term profit. Not shutting down Chicagoland and Kentucky might be a better short term choice. Selling off the entire Fontana property instead of still attempting to turn it into a half mile might be better short term. But im not sure any of that is a better long term choice. And I feel one of the biggest complaints about the sport has been they only care about money with every choice. Having someone that isn’t afraid to spend a little and try stuff isnt a bad thing, IMO.

    As for the spoon-feeding spin press releases. They put out that kinda stuff for just about any hire or promotion they do. Jusan Hamilton was talked about alot as he was about to race direct his first 500. They talked well about the new series directors they named this winter, too. I really don’t think this is unique to NASCAR, as just about any sport/teams puts out puff pieces for new hires and promotions.

    They do have a long track record, But they have also changed a ton over the last 5 years. or so. Not everyone will love every decision, but I think over all they have been a lot better in that time frame.

  9. It’s pretty clear that NASCAR held that Coliseum race primarily to increase their exposure to a new demographic with a secondary goal of showcasing the Next Gen car. As far as the race, the visuals and the increased TV ratings go that was all pretty much a success. Here’s where we part company.
    I don’t agree that they spend all that time and expense just to get a spike in the ratings, pat themselves on the back and move on. Networks and customers of networks can get data on every market across the country and dissect it in ways we can’t imagine. Not just broadcast TV but data on every expenditure made across all forms of media. It seems logical that they are going to want to see some uptick in viewership from places they have been anemic in like urban areas. Some sign that it was worth it to continue to do such events or retreat to the market they have. That’s a completely uninformed guess but I’d bet anything they have a way to assess their expenditure in the longer run. If they don’t and are spending massive amounts of money for a short term splash then that is not something good management should be doing.
    I’m sure Kennedy is a fine young man and capable. That last job reporting to the president reminds me of a family member on a career path to eventually take over the presidency himself.
    If the point is he’s the most capable person to do the jobs he’s taken on then we can agree to disagree. My only goal was to expand on the superficial, snarky comments I made initially and I’m satisfied I made the best case I could.

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