Eighteen-year-old Jordan Pickrel grew up idolizing all of those big names, and now he’s learning from them too.
Pickrel grew up going to races at the South Boston, Virginia track, a 0.4-mile asphalt oval where NASCAR drivers Denny Hamlin, Elliott Sadler and Timothy Peters got their starts.
“I was so interested in racing and watching racing that every time I got the chance for my dad to take me somewhere I loved going,” Pickrel said. “And going and watching people like Lee Pulliam, Philip Morris, and Peyton Sellers, those guys were my heroes growing up… The past couple of years it’s spit out a lot of national champions. Having that track in your backyard is definitely really nice.”
Pickrel lives about 30 minutes from South Boston in Keeling, Virginia – “A really, really small town in the middle of nowhere. We have a post office, that’s about it.” He first got the itch to begin racing at a young age, but getting the funding to put a car on the track took time.
After saving up all his money from Christmases and birthdays for seven years, he and his dad were finally able to buy his first bandolero car, which he raced for three years around short tracks in North Carolina. After finding success and realizing his talent, Pickrel was able to catch the eye of sponsors and coaches, one of which invested in a pure stock car, which he drives now at South Boston.
South Boston was the perfect place for Pickrel to make the next step in his career, not just for it’s proximity to home, but also for the reputation it has as a track.
“We decided South Boston would be the best bet because it’s a NASCAR track, it gets a lot of attention, more than other tracks, so it’s a little easier to get sponsors, and it’s greater competition down there,” he said. “So that’s kind of how I got to where I am today.
Racing is more than just a hobby for Pickrel, it’s now his full-time job. When he was just 14 he began volunteering with Sellers Racing, team of 2005 national champion Peyton Sellers. At first it was just for the learning experience, but he went back every summer, and now that he’s graduated from high school he’s working with them full time as a crew member, working around the team’s shop helping customers and doing whatever is needed, and travelling with the team on his off weekends.
Not only does his job allow him to travel to different tracks on the east coast, but it also gives him the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the biggest names in short track racing.
“That’s a really awesome opportunity too because you get to get to learn from those guys. They’re really a wealth of knowledge there,” Pickrel said. “He (Sellers) really amazes me sometimes with the information he has on a racetrack. Not only just specifically South Boston, but he’s been to so many different places he can give me a lot of feedback. Even though he’s never drove one of the pure stock cars, he knows what a low horsepower car feels like on different race tracks… so having that person I can send a text to or call, or since I’m working with him every day just walk up to and ask, that’s a really big help.”
Pickrel has heroes he watches on the track, but he’s also becoming a hero to other young drivers wanting to be like him someday.
“When we have these little fan fests and kids come up to me and talk to me I tell them they can do what I’m doing,” he said. “It might not be something that happens immediately, but with God blessing them in different ways and opening up doors and them working hard, they can definitely make it at least to the level I’ve made it up to. And if they’re good enough maybe they get the opportunities to go up higher. That’s kind of what I’d like to happen.”
“It’s really a dream come true,” he said. “Just being at the track with those guys… I never thought I’d be able to walk up and meet some of the people I’ve been able to meet. Every time you go down there you feel like a kid walking through the gate and looking at it. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
“I’m really blessed that God has given me this opportunity that not everybody else gets to get.”
South Boston will open the season this Saturday with late models, limited late models, pure stock and hornets races.