Leland Honeyman Jr. was still in diapers when he first got behind the wheel. Now, at 19 years old, he‘s the full-time driver for Young‘s Motorsports in the team‘s debut Xfinity Series season.

When Honeyman barely cracked the age of 2, his father Leland Honeyman, purchased a quad four-wheeler for him to drive in the Arizona desert. Two years later, Honeyman had a short-course truck and a desert series truck in his possession to race. By the time he was 5 years old, his father recalls him having 26 trophies and two championships. Next up was the Lucas Oil Regional Series, where he competed against fellow NASCAR driver and West Coaster Riley Herbst.

Honeyman Sr. struck up a friendship with the McDowell family, who raced and hailed from the Phoenix area. After a conversation with William McDowell, brother of two-time Cup Series winner Michael McDowell, he sold his air conditioning business and moved his 10-year-old son to the Charlotte area to further pursue a racing career.

“I just saw them on TV through the Lucas Oil big racers,” Honeyman Sr. explained to his son on how he entered him into racing. “I just went online and started looking at trucks for sale. I drove out to North Carolina and bought your first one.”

Honeyman Jr. raced karts at the famed Trackhouse Motorplex — formerly Go Pro Motorplex — where he caught McDowell‘s attention. After honing in on road-course racing, he competed in a stock car for the first time at 13 years old in a limited late model. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he took a year off from racing before hopping into the Carolina Pro Late Model Series, where he got the knack of how to race, winning four pole awards in 10 attempts.

The 2022 ARCA Menards Series campaign marked a big jump for Honeyman Jr., who was transitioning to Young‘s Motorsports — the first true race team that he was a part of. Previously, it was the father-son combination figuring it out on the fly.

“That year, I was out of that little kid phase and was ready to race,” Honeyman Jr. said. “I put my foot to the floor and was like, ‘He we are.‘”

In the seven-race ARCA East season, he had a trio of top-five finishes and won the pole at Five Flags Speedway before finishing runner-up to Sammy Smith. He made one start in the ARCA Menards West Series and three starts in the primary ARCA division, finishing sixth in his series debut at Iowa.

“Before that, I had 21 late model starts going into the ARCA season, so I don‘t know if I‘m good,” Honeyman Jr. added. “I ran half-[expletive] equipment with my stuff that was dumpster old. We got into the late model stuff and I had four poles against guys like [William] Sawalich, who is ranked [ninth] on Bob Pockrass‘ [prospect] list this year. I looked at it and we beat him in points and he ran all year. I think about it and I think I‘m pretty good.”

In the final days of 2022, Alpha Prime Racing announced Honeyman Jr. would run  a partial schedule for the team during the 2023 season. Co-owner Tommy Joe Martins believed in his new young driver from afar, stating: “He showed he could go fast and wasn‘t intimidated.”

“I‘m tied in with Team Dillon Management at the end of 2022, and they came to me and we started talking,” Honeyman Jr. said.. “They thought I was ready for Xfinity based on my ARCA starts,” Honeyman Jr. said. “That‘s when we started thinking about the Xfinity deal at Phoenix in 2022 at the end of the season. Ahead of the championship race, I met with Tommy Joe and we talked about the Xfinity deal for 2023 and it led on to that.”

Honeyman Jr. competed in seven races last season for Alpha Prime, never finishing worse than 28th. He had a quartet of top-25 finishes, including a 21st-place result at the Charlotte road course.

Admittedly, it was a difficult transition to compete only part time. At one point, he went multiple months without racing in the series, losing out on valuable experience. It was a real challenge to get in every couple of weeks and get up to speed. Only once did he run consecutive races.

“I knew what I was aware of, but when you dig deeper and have to work on these cars and how to tell your crew chief that you need a track bar adjustment, the splitter is dragging — stuff like that you don‘t realize until you‘re doing it every single weekend,” he said. “That was my biggest learning curve. It‘s going to be a lot better now that I‘m full time. Our finishes are going to be a lot better, I‘m going to run more consistent and not going to have eight races and you look at my Racing Reference and be like, ‘Wow, his average finish is 25th, but I wrecked out of like three of them.‘”

Over the offseason, Tyler Young, owner of Young‘s Motorsports, reconnected with Honeyman Jr. to see if he was interested in running the full season. At that time, the driver didn‘t realize that Young was starting an Xfinity team.

By mid-December, the deal was complete and Honeyman Jr. was set to run his first full season in NASCAR competition.

“I‘m happy things are coming back together for me and Tyler,” he added. “When we raced in the past together, we did really well and had success.

“Tyler has been in this sport forever, and I‘m confident in their team and what they can do, especially with our ARCA starts. I‘m happy and I‘m excited to see where this year takes us.”

Through the first two months of the season, Honeyman Jr. has already matched his 2023 start total. He sits 21st in the championship standings and has four top-20 finishes. He earned the best result of his young career at his home track, Phoenix, placing 11th.

Many industry members believe Honeyman Jr. has potential to rise through the NASCAR ranks. McDowell has spent time with the Honeyman family and sees a similar trajectory that he experienced.

“I think much like myself, just scrappy trying to make it,” McDowell said. “Doesn‘t have a lot of resources and hasn‘t had big opportunities, he‘s just trying to make it happen. It‘s a tough thing to do in this sport — to grind it out and keep trying to find a little bit better. It‘s hard doing what he‘s doing and takes a big commitment and I‘m glad to see him getting opportunities.”

The series heads to Talladega this weekend, where Honeyman Jr. will try to improve on a best finish of 21st in the two drafting races thus far in 2024.

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