The Need for Speed
Ocean Isle Beach native Landen Lewis is burning up the East Coast tracks and winning titles along the way.
Fourteen-year-old Landen Lewis has been racing competitively for nine years and has more than 150 wins to his name, including four-time Junior Maxx Daddy and four-time Maxx Daddy Kart Racing Champion. This all from a young man who isn’t even old enough to have his driver’s license.
Lewis, a ninth grader at Southeastern Christian Academy, first discovered his passion for racing when he was just four years old, after watching his dad and both great granddads race. Lewis’s dad, Johnathan, who began racing at the age of 11, raced late model and street stock cars at Myrtle Beach Speedway, where he claimed the 1996 South Carolina Go Kart Championship. Lewis and his dad both share a love of racing as well as a racing number.
“99. That’s my number and my father was that number too. It’s been used through the family a lot,” Lewis says.
The time it took Lewis to master a go kart was “a good year to get into the rhythm of things.” And by the time he was five-and-half years old, he had won his first race at the Conway go kart track.
Once it was apparent that racing wasn’t just a passing interest for Lewis, and something he excelled at, his dad reached out to NASCAR hall of famer Ron Hornaday Jr., who was building dirt modified race cars, to see if he could help Lewis rise in the sport.
Hornaday took the young man on as his protégé, and at the age of 12, Lewis won his first dirt modified race — against veterans already gaining national attention. In addition to driving for Ron Hornaday Jr., he also drives for Joe Ryan Race Cars, where he’s gotten the experience racing on asphalt and road courses.
In addition to support from Ron Hornaday and Joe Ryan, Lewis counts many local and national brands as sponsors, including Bilstein Shocks, Simpson Racing Products, Zmaxx Racing Products, L&A South Tired & Alignment Center, L&A North Tire & Auto, LouLous Waterfront Restaurant, Car Quest of Supply and Crystal Babson with Century 21.
Currently, Lewis drives three different cars. Go Karts, which he’s won 15 championships; Dirt Modifieds, which he was the youngest driver to win a Mid East Modified Series race at age 12; and Legend Cars. He’s already racked up several championships in the past three years including the 2020 Semi Pro Dirt National Championship. In all, he’s had nine wins and 20 Top 5s. His most memorable race was the 2019 Winter National in Florida. “It was my first ever legend car win,” Lewis says. “It was the first time I ever drove one in a race.” Lewis was just 13 years old.
All of Lewis’s karts or cars are designed for different driving styles. His favorite is the Legend Car.
“It’s a motorcycle engine in a small coup car,” he says. “It’s modeled after a 1934 car.”
According to Lewis, many NASCAR drivers get their start with Legend Cars and they’re “one of the hardest cars you can drive.”
By the year’s end, Lewis will have competed in nearly 70 races.
“He’s somewhere every weekend,” says his mother, Brandy Lewis. “Race lengths vary, some are over a weekend, and some are week-long events.”
The family travels up and down the East Coast from the Carolinas to Florida to Pennsylvania and beyond. Lewis, whose favorite subject is science, keeps up with his schoolwork while he’s on the road.
Maybe it’s the science behind the speed, power and agility of racing that keeps Lewis coming back for more. He admits to having driven as fast as 120 miles per hour on the track, but also keeps safety top of mind. When he’s driving, he focuses on “winning, but also avoiding wrecks, keeping my composure and planning the next move I’m going to make.”
As for next moves, something Lewis would like to add to his driving accomplishments that he hasn’t yet tried is to race a “late model super truck or cub car.” And for someone who already drives on NASCAR tracks in Charlotte, Atlanta and Nashville, where does this Ocean Isle Beach native see himself in the future? As if there was any doubt, “Any sort of NASCAR,” he says.
Photography by Bill Ritenour