Whizzing by his fellow racers in car No. 57 is Waxahachie native Landon Zakalowski; he's fast, he's mean and he's only 11 years old. Landon began racing at age four in go-carts, but soon moved to the upper echelons of the West Texas racing scene. He crossed over to dirt and motorbikes after winning his third Junior Cup. He holds the record for the youngest driver at the West Texas Raceway in Lubbock, a title he is sure to keep as Landon said that although this was a "[largely] unpopular for people this young," that many would enjoy it if they only gave it a try.
Landon, like many his age, attends school in Waxahachie and is sure that racing will never get in the way of his academics. His father reports that his grades have only gone up since racing began. Although each spine-tingling, hairpin turn is without a driver's license, Landon doesn't need one to race. His father Mark Zakalowski said he's done his best with his son's talent, though it's far from conventional.
"We're training like it's the SuperBowl. I push him to his limit because that's where he's his best."
Mark Zakalowski has acted as Landon's coach, father and mechanic for the past five years. This experience has helped him to learn more about his car.
Besides the high-speed races, most preparation is slow-speed: going over races, realizing faults, searching through diagrams and doing deep dives into the metagame of racing.
"We sit down and look at the videos. … His mother has taken thousands of photos of him. We need that playbook."
Landon is more than just a racer — he's a top-performer academically, the catcher for his school's baseball team and training for his black belt.
The 11-year-old has trained intensively for seven years and has racked up quite the competitive achievement list, with multiple trophies under his belt before his freshman year of high school. His skills speak for themselves: He's won the Red River Go-Kart Tournament, the Junior 3 Championship, Race 125 and Outlaw.
Landon's schedule can include as much as a race weekly on average, which he admits can be a little stressful. However, nothing relieves that stress more than a well-deserved victory over fierce competition. Through the heat of competition, though, Landon still takes time to socialize with fellow drivers, apologizing if he hits their cars.
"I say I'm sorry… because I know how it can be to get hit," Landon said sympathetically.
His father says the duo has received some negative feedback with concern for Landon's well-being in this fast-paced sport. He has assured them that Landon is likely a better driver than most of those twice his age on the highway.
"I guess people just don't understand the time he's been in the car... been in that speed," Mark said. "Of course I trust him… he knows what he's doing."
The duo has complete faith in each other that with each race will come a victory or, at the very least, a learning experience.
His videos have garnered much attention on social media, each post offering prayers and support for the young racer's career. His father thinks the attention is fun, though he hopes the energy is always positive.
"Far too many people jump to the conclusion that (Landon picked up racing) because we're rich or something. … We work hard. He works hard."
As long as Landon keeps on, he's sure to smash more records and win even more championships. "It's like being a football coach," Mark exclaimed, "but at about 80 miles an hour!"