Baseball… Aaron Judge
Football… Tom Brady
Basketball… Steph Curry
Golf… Jordan Speith
NASCAR? Steve Kenseth?
When parents hear their children proclaim they’ve fallen in love with a sport, they’re often not surprised to hear any of the first four mentioned with one of those athletes designated as their kid’s new hero.
Posters go up on walls. Jerseys or golf attire is ordered, and soon you’ll all be watching everything that athlete says, tweets or does. It’s just a fact of life when growing up.
For Landon Crawley, his heart is in a different place. It’s with NASCAR, and Kenseth is his man. “People call him ‘The King,’ and he wins a lot of races. He’s just cool.”
So, Landon has decided to chart his own path, following in his hero’s footsteps toward becoming a professional driver.
Have we mentioned he’s only nine years old?
“I want to be a professional racecar driver and not a golfer,” Landon said. “I started racing when I was about seven. It was just so much fun.”
While you can’t really argue the idea that Landon’s passion for racing sounds fun, it is a sport he’s been exposed to his entire life, considering his father has raced for 40 years, 15 of them professionally.
“He started racing go carts at seven, and it was difficult,” Landon’s father, Tim, said. “My racing schedule kept me from being in two places at the same time, so we began running in races they call mini-sprints. It’s a smaller version of what I’ve spent the majority of my career racing. They’re cars with engines similar to what you might see in a road motorcycle.”
After Landon told his parents he wanted to graduate from go carts to sprint cars, he first had to prove he was up to the challenge. Without a practice track available for test laps, Tim and his son had to get creative.
“There was a big unknown,” Tim said. “I didn’t know how he would react to the car or if he would pick it up. I expected him to progress a little slower than what he has done.
“The first time we drove, we took the car to a field. I just let him get acclimated to the driving.”
From there and with the help of some racing connections, Landon and Tim were able to get some lap time in Memphis. “They allowed us on the track and he ran several laps. They were pretty impressive. He really took to it.”
With the desire in place and the skills ready to develop, Landon and Tim ran into another challenge: where to race. In Arkansas, there aren’t many circuits that allow for racing in age classes for Landon. To do that, Tim says, you have to travel to other states. “In Oklahoma, they have several tracks that cater to mini-sprints. They have many different classes, and one class for kids.”
In March of last year while in Mississippi for a practice session, Landon and Tim decided to take a chance. Tim spoke with race promoters about his son being allowed to compete against older, more experienced racers. They agreed to give him a shot.
“I was pretty nervous,” Tim said. “I was worried that if something did happen, I would have to drive back home with him and his mom. That wouldn’t be pretty.”
And as you’d expect, Landon’s mom, Lora, was just as nervous for her young son taking his first step into a brave new world.
“Tim said he was ready to race, and I just started crying,” Lora said. “People were staring at me probably wondering, ‘What is wrong with this lady? She’s at the race track and crying.’ It still gets to me, seeing him out there racing.”
Today, after more than a dozen races under his belt, Landon is learning to hold his own. Tim is teaching him the in’s and out’s of the sport, Lora is broadcasting his races on Facebook Live and his circle of friends range from teenage drivers to older adults who love talking about driving the sport with this talented young man.
“He’s been thrown into a very adult environment, but that’s just the reality of him racing these days,” Tim said. “There have been a few awkward moments, but everyone has taken to him really well. He bumped a guy one night, and I had to take a nine-year-old over to apologize to a 35-year-old for something that happened on the track.”
So, as other kids dream of playing at Augusta National, in Yankee Stadium or in Cowboys Stadium, Landon will keep his eyes focused on Dayton, Charlotte and the Poconos.