This weekend will be good training for Landon Pembelton’s future in racing.
The 17-year-old from Amelia, Virginia, will start Saturday racing at Dominion Raceway, a NASCAR-sanctioned track in Woodford, Virginia. Dominion will host twin late model races beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
After he gets out of the car there, Pembelton will race against time as he travels down south from Dominion to South Boston Speedway, a NASCAR-sanctioned track in South Boston, Virginia, about 2 1/2 hours away. South Boston will have twin-75 lap late model races beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
With two races at each track, Pembelton estimates it’ll be about 270 laps of racing in about 10 hours.
“I think we’ve got it planned out where we can try to run both races this weekend,” Pembelton said in a phone interview this week. “It’s going to be tough, but I feel confident going into these two.”
Watch live on FloRacing: Weekly Series racing at South Boston
Pembelton’s hope is the long day and many laps behind the wheel help prepare him for the rest of the summer.
“It’s definitely going to be tough and a learning curve, but I feel like it’s going to strengthen me as a driver and mentally and physically because of how hot it’s going to be this weekend,” he said. “I feel like it’s going to be a little tough because of the heat, but I’m really confident. I think we’ve got two good cars going into this weekend.”
Pembelton got the best training for long races last fall at Martinsville Speedway, where he won the track’s annual ValleyStar Credit Union 300, one of the biggest late model races in the country. In his first time racing at Martinsville, the teenager bested former Martinsville winners, late model legends, and his own teammate, Peyton Sellers, last year’s NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national champion, on the way to the win.
“It’s definitely a big deal for me,” Pembelton said of winning Martinsville. “I’ve gotten a lot of publicity from just that race in general. We had a great couple weeks leading up to Martinsville, and we were close to clicking off some wins at Dominion and South Boston, and it all clicked together at Martinsville. I really don’t know how we did it, but we came away with a win and got to bring the clock back home.”
The grandfather clock trophy Pembelton won in that race is now sitting in his family’s living room, giving him a reminder of his victory every time he walks in the house.
“These last couple months I’ve been very thankful,” he said. “Just from Martinsville itself, it’s opened up a lot of opportunities and it’s starting to make me realize how big of a deal Martinsville really is. I feel like I’m going to accept it a lot more in five or 10 years than I am right now.”
In addition to winning Martinsville, last season Pembelton was named the Virginia State Division I and the South East Division I Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series.
The successful 2021 season opened many doors for Pembelton. A few weeks after Martinsville, Pembelton’s dad got a text from Billy Venturini, co-owner of Venturini Motorsports, asking if he would interested in running some ARCA Menards Series races with his team and Toyota Racing. Pembelton will race four times with Venturini this summer at Elko Speedway, the Milwaukee Mile, Toledo Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.
“I’m blessed to have this opportunity. Martinsville really created a lot of these opportunities for me, and I’m just very thankful,” Pembelton said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a good time.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun. I just want to have as much fun as I possibly can but I want… to learn everything I can and hopefully we can race some more ARCA next year.”
— Landon Pembelton (@lbpem0) May 17, 2022
The biggest thing Pembelton said he learned at Martinsville is how to focus during longer races. Up to that point, he was used to running twin 60 or 75 lap races at his weekly short tracks.
He’s hopeful that experience in longer races on bigger tracks will serve him well as he now enters the ARCA Menards Series.
“I don’t really get to run the longer races much,” he said. “I’m usually running twins… It’s whole lot different than the 150 lappers or 200 lappers. I just really think I learned a lot in the longer races, how to keep pace with the guys who have been racing for a number of years.”
In addition to his four ARCA races, Pembelton is also running another full season at South Boston, where he’s currently fifth in the track’s late model division points standings.
He also plans to run sparingly at Dominion and Hickory Motor Speedway, a NASCAR-sanctioned track in Hickory, North Carolina.
With 11 races under his belt so far this season, he’s currently fourth in the latest NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Division I points standings.
The late model competition at South Boston is stiff – all of the top four drivers in the national Division I points standings have raced there this season – making wins very hard to come by.
With more races under his belt, though, Pembelton’s expectations for himself have also increased. Even though he has five top fives and nine top 10s so far this season, he said he’s not where he’d like to be quite yet.
“We struggled a little bit this year, but competition is very, very stiff everywhere we go now,” he said. “Everyone is really, really good and we’ve just been struggling a little bit. When I say struggling we’ve been running third, fourth, fifth. We’re just trying to get the wins. I feel like we need to be competing for wins.”
No matter where he’s racing or who he’s racing against, the young Pembelton has proven you can never count him out.
“I just want to thank Toyota Racing, Sellers Racing, and (crew chief) H.C. (Sellers). He’s been a role model for me, been my mentor over the years,” Pembelton said. “And Billy Venturini, and all the guys at Venturini Motorsports, and all my family. I can’t thank them enough for supporting me and helping me out.”
Dominion Raceway will host Twin Late Models, Dominion Stocks, Mini Stocks, AnyCars, Legends and Bandoleros on Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
South Boston Speedway’s Southern Virginia Higher Ed Center & God’s Pit Crew First Responders Night on Saturday will feature late models, Budweiser Limited Sportsmans, Southside Disposal Pure Stocks and hornets, all beginning at 7 p.m. ET.