For most of us, customizing a car might mean upgraded wheels or a new stereo. Not for Ben Levite. For his Senior Project at Waynflete, the 17-year-old imported the front end of a Honda Civic from Japan, then used the components to reengineer his own car as a right-hand drive. “I can remember his classmates saying, ‘Wait—you did what?,’” says faculty member Sue Stein, who advised Ben in his final two years at Waynflete. “The student center was packed and people’s jaws were dropping. He was in the winner’s circle that day.”
Ben can’t pinpoint where his passion originated. Mom is a therapist, while dad owned a commercial landscaping company. From his earliest childhood years growing up in Cumberland, he was a self-confessed—and self-taught—gearhead. By high school, he had progressed from building bicycles to purchasing cars, taking them apart, and selling individual components on eBay.
“Ben always knew what he wanted to do,” Sue recalls. “He was self-directed and self-motivated, and had really supportive parents. And he was at a school that encourages students to pursue whatever they want to do.”
Ben wanted a career in motorsports but didn’t want to spend his days “turning a wrench.” While the typical educational path is an engineering degree followed by a specialized trade school, Ben discovered that he could accomplish both objectives at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which offered a mechanical engineering program with a concentration in motorsports.
Another school, another senior project. In his final year at UNCC, Ben joined a team building a formula car from the ground up. His role was to fabricate the vehicle’s entire wiring harness. Observing the quality of his work, one of his instructors recommended Ben to a friend who was starting a racing team.
It was a life-changing connection. Riley Motorsports, which is just 30 miles away in Mooresville (known in the business as “race city”), had just won a contract to race Dodge Vipers. The company hired Ben as a team electrician in 2012. He graduated on a Friday, started work at Riley the following Monday, and worked 110 hours in his first week.
Riley ran Vipers in the domestic IMSA sports car series and also fielded cars at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. “I’ve now been three times and know what to expect,” says Ben. “It’s a bit crazy. It’s not just the 24 hours of the race. You wake up at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday and go to sleep at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday. At that point, people are barely able to talk to each other.”
Ben was soon promoted to data engineer, where he was responsible for analyzing dozens of vehicle sensors that measure everything from pressures and temperatures to ride height, shock travel, and steering angle. Data is live-streamed to the pit box during races, enabling the team to alert drivers to technical issues or suggest in-car setup changes. After races, and during practices, Ben analyzed data with engineers and drivers, allowing the team made iterative improvements for future races.
Today, Ben is a manager, leading the two-car team that fields AMG GT3 race cars in the IMSA series. He loves the diversity of sports car series, which include manufacturers like AMG/Mercedes, Porsche, BMW, Ferrari, and Lamborghini. “I love the fact that sports cars run worldwide,” says Ben. “I’ve traveled to many parts of Europe and hope to get to Asia and Australia soon.” At the most recent race at Sebring in Florida, one of his cars turned in a third-place finish and moved into first place in the North American Endurance Cup Championship.
Reflecting back on the decade since he left Waynflete, Ben says he has learned that career satisfaction derives as much from hard work as it does from finding one’s passion. He also observes that although his studies were primarily technical, college wasn’t just about career training. “It’s much more than ‘I get my degree and then get the job I want,’” he says. “You also learn to connect, communicate, and understand systems and processes. These intangible skills are just as important as technical skills.”