Langley Speedway lost one of its most popular drivers when two-time track and regional champion Mark Wertz was sidelined for the season recently with a broken ankle. His car owners, Colonel and Phyllis Raymond, have provided a more-than-suitable replacement for the Hampton Heat 200 on Saturday in Peyton Sellers of Danville.
Sellers, 28, boasts a resume that includes racing to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing Series national title in 2005 and maintaining the national championship-winning car of Philip Morris in his Sellers Racing garage a year ago. In between, he spent a year driving under contract for Richard Childress Racing.
For all that he's accomplished, Sellers understands that winning on Langley's 4/10-of-a-mile, flat oval on Saturday will be a challenge — even in Wertz's competitive No. 55. That doesn't dampen his enthusiasm.
"I'm honored that the Colonel and Mark think enough of me to ask me to drive the car in the Heat," Sellers said. "I wasn't intending to race here, but any time you can come over and drive a car that's top five week-in and week out in this race, you take advantage.
"I'm going to rely heavily on Mark as my driver/coach, because Langley Speedway has its own unique personality. Just like any track in America, you've got to get the car to turn.
"But you've also got to get forward bite out of the turns. It's a rough track, but it has a lot of grip and you use a lot of throttle."
Sellers should do just fine. He's been winning since he jumped into go-karts at age 7, and won 14 of 16 races at South Boston Speedway en route to his 2005 national title in what was then known as the Dodge Weekly Series.
"It was one of those things where everything just clicked," Sellers said. "The crew members were all working in the same direction, and my brother (H.C. Sellers) gave 110-percent as crew chief.
"The good Lord was with us and everything just fell into place."
He continued to shine and had fun the next year as a development driver for RCR, and ran in his first Nationwide Series race that season. He's not at all bitter that it didn't lead to bigger things, but is certain he would be competitive with NASCAR's big boys if he had the sponsorship.
"Racing is the only sport where you can buy your way to the top if you've got the money," Sellers said. "Everywhere else it takes talent.
"But you have to have talent to stay at the top, so I advise drivers to develop their talent before they get to the top."
The five-man Sellers racing team includes two highly respected prospects in youngsters Matt Bowling and Austin Self. Sellers counsels them to learn how the cars work by working on them, as well as communicate with sponsors and fans.
While owning and maintaining cars is becoming a bigger part of Sellers' life, he's still a driver to be reckoned with. He's second to Bowling in the Late Model points at South Boston, with two victories to his credit this season.
He's raced only once in his career at Langley, failing to finish last summer because of an oil leak. Win or lose on Saturday, he's sure he'll have fun, which he says is his prime objective when racing Late Models.
"Everybody at Langley treated us well: Mark Wertz, Greg Edwards, Danny Edwards and (track owner) Bill Mullis," Sellers said. "That's why we're back."
HAMPTON HEAT 200
WHAT: 200-lap stock car race paying $32,000 in prize money, including $10,000 to the winner.
WHEN: Four-race card begins at 7 p.m. with the Hampton Heat beginning at 9 p.m.
WHERE: Langley Speedway in Hampton, North Armistead Lane and Dale Lemonds drive across from the NASA Langley Wind Tunnel.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times