Landon Pembelton came into the race season with a goal of competing for state awards in Virginia.
Now that the season is more than halfway over, those goals have grown.
Pembelton, a rookie late model driver who has raced at several NASCAR-sanctioned tracks this season including South Boston and Langley Speedways and Dominion Raceway in Virginia, wanted to try to win state rookie of the year, “and if it all played out, regional and national, we could try to go for that.”
It’s worked out, and larger rookie of the year titles have come into Pembelton’s sights. He’s currently eighth in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Division I standings, the highest ranking rookie. He’s also the highest ranking rookie, and third overall, in the Virginia state rankings.
“This season has been, I’ve found it very, very good for us,” Pembelton said. “I did not expect to do as well as we’re doing.”
Pembelton has 10 top-5s and 14 top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season.
The 16-year-old began racing go-karts when he was about eight or nine, and switched to racing cars two years ago in South Boston’s limited late model series. He raced a limited at Dominion last season.
Racing at South Boston is about more than just trying to pick up rookie points for Pembelton. His dad, Brian, raced at the southern Virginia track and even won a track championship in the limited sportsman division in 2009.
Pembelton said his dad is the one who got him started in the sport, and is a still a “big factor” in his racing.
The Pembeltons consider South Boston their home track. It’s just over an hour from their home in Amelia, Virginia, the place Pembelton used to go to watch races every weekend, and where he’s run the most laps in his own young career.
“It’s definitely a big deal going there every week. Knowing that my dad raced there, we’ve both raced there now,” Pembelton said of South Boston. “It’s pretty cool. I definitely don’t remember as much as I needed to, of course. It’s a lot different watching than racing. Racing is definitely more fun in my opinion.
“The people are always very nice. it’s always very welcoming. Everyone always welcomes you to the race track. You never have anyone that’s picking and choosing. It’s always very equal. Everyone loves each other there. It’s just a family. A big family.”
Southern Virginia has also allowed Pembelton to run with and against some of the best late model drivers in the country and learn a lot from them on the track.
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“Mike Looney, Peyton [Sellers], all the CARS tour guys when they came to the July 4th race (at South Boston), I learned a lot from those guys,” he said. “They race clean, they race respectful, they race hard though. It’s tooth and nail fighting every lap.”
Pembelton races out of Peyton Sellers’ shop, giving him a former NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national champion as a teammate. Sellers’ brother and crew chief, HC Sellers, has been friends with Brian Pembelton for more than two decades, and helped on the elder Pembelton’s car when he was racing at South Boston.
“I told him ever since Landon started racing go-karts, ‘If Landon wants to move up into cars, I want you to be his guy,’” Brian Pembelton said. “And it all came full-circle. And we plan to be there for a long time. It’s not a short term program for us. It’s a long term program for us to be there with those guys.”
The Sellers maintain Landon Pembelton’s car every week and have taught him a lot about racing.
“Just learning how to get the feedback on the car, what I needed to learn about the car to make it drive good, and they just helped me out on communication. I’ve learned a lot from those two,” Landon Pembelton said.
“They don’t get no better than that,” Brian Pembelton said of the Sellers brothers. “Everybody in their shop is a huge part of what we’re doing. For your teammate to be Peyton and have HC’s guidance, that’s probably what’s propelled him (Landon) to be as good as he is right now. The preparation of our equipment from them and their coaching, really, in all honesty, has kind of set Landon on fire this year, in my opinion.”
Landon Pembelton thanked the Sellers, crew members Chris Carroll, Stanley Pope, and Eric Winslow, and Brian Tanner with Tanner Race Engines for helping him every week and teaching him so much in his rookie late model season.
The rookie – who is sponsored by GXS Wraps, Pembelton Forest Products, Pembelton Realty, Williams Logging, Rheem, RPM Group, Easter Design, Solid Rock Carriers, and Sailor’s Creek Construction – isn’t running for points at any of the three tracks where he’s competed this year. The team is more just picking and choosing where they go every week, and trying to overcome the learning curve of adapting to each track.
His hope is to continue running in the top five wherever he goes. If he can, all of his big goals for his rookie season could continue to be in reach.
“I think we just need to keep running good. Running top five is our main focus here,” Landon Pembelton said. “Top fives are pretty big in the national and regional points. If you run top-5 it’s good points all the way across the board.
“It’s a lot more competition in a late model. It’s just a big deal racing against the best and running good with them. That’s what the main learning curve has been.”
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Racing will return to South Boston Speedway this Saturday for the Davenport Energy Night At The Races, which will feature two heats of limited sportsman, two heats of late model, Budweiser Pure Stock, and Budweiser Hornets. Racing will begin at 7 p.m.