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Leland Honeyman Jr.: Dedicated to Racing and Chili’s Cajun Chicken Pasta

Leland Honeyman Jr. who is leland honeyman interview with leland honeyman Chili's Cajun Chicken Pasta NASCAR interview Leland Honeyman NASCAR interview Alpha Prime Racing
Leland Honeyman Jr. who is leland honeyman interview with leland honeyman Chili's Cajun Chicken Pasta NASCAR interview Leland Honeyman NASCAR interview Alpha Prime Racing
Leland Honeyman Jr. sat down with for an exclusive interview ahead of his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut. The 18-year-old talked about how he chose Alpha Prime, how he’s preparing for his first race, his family’s history, and more.

This weekend marks Leland Honeyman Jr.’s debut in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition at the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway. The 18-year-old racer, who will pilot the No. 45 Klean Freak Chevrolet Camaro, was gracious enough to chisel out a large portion of time to speak with in a wide-ranging exclusive interview.

No stone is left unturned as Honeyman talks about why he chose Alpha Prime Racing as his team for 2023, how he prepares for his first race in a new series, and we even find out what his favorite restaurant is and his favorite dish at said restaurant.

Let’s get to know Honeyman Jr. together, shall we?

Interview Table of Contents

  1. Leland Honeyman… Who?
  2. What led to the selection of Alpha Prime Racing?
  3. Preparing for the unknown
  4. More to being a race car driver than just driving
  5. Race to live, live to… eat?
  6. Family history/connections in racing
  7. Realistic expectations

Leland Honeyman… Who?

The big thing I noticed when the news dropped of Leland Honeyman Jr. running for Alpha Prime Racing in 2023 dropped was that many people simply didn’t know who the racer was.

At the time of the announcement, Honeyman was only 17 years old and he had only recorded one NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start, which came at Bristol Motor Speedway last fall.

So, who is Honeyman and what path did he take to get to the NASCAR Xfinity Series?

“I started racing in Offroad Trophy Trucks and then go-karts, moved my way up to Bandoleros, legend cars, limited late models, late model stocks, pro late models,” Honeyman said. “I Did one super race and then moved up to ARCA last year and then did a truck race for Young’s as well, and now here I am in Xfinity.”

Honeyman knows he is in for a steep learning curve moving from part-time ARCA to part-time Xfinity in 2023, but he is hopeful that he’ll get his season off to a good start.

“You know, making the move from ARCA to Xfinity is definitely a big step, but knowing the cars are a little bit similar — not as much downforce — it’s going to take some getting used to. It’ll take me a few races and whatnot,” Honeyman explained. “Hopefully, going into Phoenix, we’ll have a good start.”

While he hopes to get his NASCAR Xfinity Series career started off on the right foot, there is so much that is unknown for Honeyman. Unknown because he’s never competed in the series, but even more so because he hasn’t had a chance to compete with the majority of the other drivers that he’ll be facing off against on Saturday.

“I haven’t really raced against the guys that are in Xfinity right now, so I can’t really tell where I’m going to be at and kind of point myself in that direction, except for where they were in ARCA and Trucks,” Honeyman said. “Going off my one truck race, I wouldn’t really base it off that. But from an ARCA standpoint, I would look at that and see oh, they ran in fifth or fourth or won this race and I ran second or third. I guess it all depends on how I ran compared to how they ran for me to get a judgment on that.”

Honeyman will certainly be learning the NASCAR Xfinity Series race car, and his competition on the fly when Saturday’s United Rentals 200 goes green.

What led to the selection of Alpha Prime Racing?

Alpha Prime Racing was a highly sought-after landing spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season, so much so, that Ryan Ellis told prior to the start of the 2023 season that he was thankful to be driving for the team as it looked like they wouldn’t have room for him at points in the offseason.

That being said, for Honeyman to be in the driver lineup for the team, he had to have gone out of his way to select the team. What led to Honeyman picking Alpha Prime as his home?

“The teammates that I have here — Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ryan Ellis, Stefan Parsons and Sage [Karam] — they’re all great guys and clean racers,” Honeyman said. “They’re good guys on and off the track. I really like Tommy [Joe Martins], David [Schildhouse] and really everyone in the shop. I started meeting them recently, and it’s really cool meeting everyone. Tommy is a really good team owner.”

The wealth of knowledge on the driver roster was without a doubt a key component to Honeyman going to Alpha Prime Racing.

“Yeah, knowing that I can take some notes from those guys and ask them any question I want, and even Tommy — he raced a bunch of Xfinity and Trucks and stuff and whatnot — I can ask him anything I want. Having a teammate that’s in the car there that weekend and just going over and asking him a question is going to be the best thing for me,” Honeyman stated.

Honeyman also feels comfort in how hands on Tommy Joe Martins is with the Alpha Prime team.

“The effort — when I first came here and met with him the goal that [Tommy] had, and what he was talking about to what he said, they had just moved into this new shop, and Tommy has been working left and right,” Honeyman explained. “Putting the effort into something. A lot of people don’t do that. There’s some team owners that are more laid back and have employees due it. Tommy is more into it, and that’s what I really liked about Tyler Young. He’s really into it, you know? I see Tommy like that as well, and David the Vice President, they’re here every day and working. They’re hands on with stuff. That’s what I really like. And they’re motivated to do something with the team.”

Preparing for the unknown

With just one NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on his resume, three ARCA Menards Series race at seven ARCA Menards Series East events, how does Honeyman expect to get prepared for his starts this season?

“Right now, working on my development with Team Dillon Management, and they’re in charge of all of that,” Honeyman said. “Doing the Chevy [simulator] Stuff, I don’t know such yet. But we’ll get into that a little later this year. Right now, I’m doing some iRacing and watching some tape. Just getting ready for my first race and want a good debut. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

But it’s not just the turning laps around the track thing that will be new for Honeyman. There is also the whole live pit stop thing. With ARCA going to scheduled stops in a large portion of its events, Honeyman hasn’t had much chance to drive to pit road at race speed.

“[Pitting at] Bristol last year was pretty fun — the asphalt race. It was pretty cool trying to get everything right and be down to focus for this year, knowing that was my last race of the year,” Honeyman explained. “Knowing that we ended the ARCA race early, because it’s a five-minute pit stop, so there’s not so much of that. You take your time there. But in the Truck race, I was like, ‘This is my last race, I need to be on top of my game. [This is] practice for next year, this is all that matters,’ having that advantage now helps me even more. But going on iRacing and coming down for a live pit stop is what I’m really working on now.”

While Honeyman is a greenhorn in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year, he will be paired with a long-time veteran crew chief — Frank Kerr. Honeyman says he has already enjoyed getting to know his crew chief.

“Talking to Frank Kerr, I sat down with him yesterday and we talked for three hours,” Honeyman explained. “He’s telling me about his past and everything and going through the NASCAR ranks as a crew chief is a big and important thing, you know? He [was] crew chief [for] Marcos Ambrose, Robby Gordon, and David Gilliland. Hearing his stories, and him telling me to be focused and pull all of my effort into racing and just be ready and try my best, he kind of gave me a motivational speech. That’s kind of what it was, but it was really cool. I like meeting him, I’m excited to work with him this year. He has a lot of experience, which is a really good thing and I’m really motivated to work with Frank.”

Without a doubt, having Kerr in his ear will definitely help Honeyman gain experience at a quicker rate this season.

More to being a race car driver than just driving

Being a NASCAR race car driver back in the 1980s was all about pushing your foot to the floor, turning left, and hoping that you were able to make the car stick. It was all about driving, and driving alone. In modern times, drivers have to be more than pilots of high-performance race vehicles.

They have to be sales marketing specialists, spokespersons for products, and sometimes public relations representatives. Amid an already packed schedule, drivers have to constantly find new and unique ways to connect with their fans. Social media is the most effective way to do that. Honeyman understands that and he is trying to help build his channels.

“That’s difficult. Growing your social media is always the hardest part of the whole racing deal, I feel like,” Honeyman laughed. “Your social media directs where you’re going to go with everything because you could have 100,000 followers on social media compared to a guy that has 20 followers. That guy with 100,000 is going to get a sponsor over you.

“Media drives this sport a lot and I really think putting the effort into growing your social media is the biggest thing and that’s what I have to take part in. I’ve been trying to do it for a year now, and it’s hard racing seven times a year and then growing your social media when you can post seven times throughout the year. So, I have to find stuff to do outside of the racetrack. I make content for my fans, and keep growing it. I’m not big in this sport, a lot of people don’t know me. Hopefully we can have a good debut race and build my name up this year. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

The race to build your name up is a pressure-packed situation for drivers in Honeyman’s shoes because there is an even younger generation of driver lurking behind him that have been aligned with management companies for years, and have had the advantage of building their social media followings before they can even begin looking to the NASCAR National Series ranks.

“Knowing that there are kids that have already signed with management companies at like 14 years old is really pretty tough,” Honeyman admitted. “You know they’re coming up the ranks and they are getting sponsors. And some people might have the money to do it without sponsors. That’s fine, that’s awesome. Going through the ranks at such a young age and advancing to the next level is like really important. You might see a kid that is 16 racing a truck and it’s crazy to think. But I was 17 years old making my Truck debut.”

Race to live, live to… eat?

Honeyman is fully ingrained in his pursuit of making it to the top level of NASCAR racing. So much so, that his personal life, like many racers, has suffered from a lack of extra-curricular hobbies. What does Honeyman like to do away from the race track?

“Eat. Sleep. Work out. Racing. That’s about it,” Honeyman quipped.

“I do a lot of iRacing. I started out on iRacing when I was about 10 years old. I probably shouldn’t say that, there’s an age limit,” Honeyman joked. “But I’m 18 years old. I started out on iRacing as a rookie, obviously, and you work your way up. I started doing it and I didn’t know what I was doing.

“I started going for my A-Class license when I was 12 or 13 years old. I had raced like 100 races and I was still in rookie class and I didn’t know how. So I just gave up at that point and just started doing hosted and a lot of test sessions to get ready for the year. I just recently started going for A-Class and getting my safety rating up and my iRating up. That’s what I’m working on now, but I spent like nine hours starting this past Friday, I did a nine-hour day. I was up until like 4 am just iRacing. Trying to get higher so maybe I can compete with somebody.”

Okay, okay, Honeyman listed eating as one of the four things he likes to do. This begs the question; what does Leland Honeyman like to eat more than anything else?

“Chili’s Cajun Chicken Pasta,” Honeyman stated emphatically. “I have two buddies, two of my best friends, we go there like once a week, twice a week and we eat it. I know it’s like a lot of calories and whatnot and probably not the best for me, but it’s my meal that I have to eat that I absolutely love.”

Confession time; I myself have been known to down some Chili’s Chicken Crispers over the years, but upon Honeyman’s rave review, I will have to partake in a Cajun Chicken Pasta sometime soon.

If Honeyman was able to sell me that quickly on his favorite meal at Chili’s, perhaps he could do the same for the general public if the company decided to partner with him.

“I don’t know. Have they ever been in NASCAR before? Chili’s, if you’re listening step on board,” Honeyman chuckled.

Honeyman is a rookie that acts like a seasoned racing veteran.

Now, if a professional athlete is going to consume a boatload of carbs, they better down it with a heaping helping of cardio. Luckily, for Honeyman, his favorite form of exercise is running.

“I really like running,” Honeyman explained. “I love it, we have an assault runner. I workout with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at his place with his trainer Ryan. We’re getting there day by day.”

Another unique perk of driving for Alpha Prime Racing is that there will be no shortage of pre-workout supplements from Alpha Prime — Caesar Bacarella’s company. Honeyman says he hasn’t utilized the AP family of products just yet, but once he gets approval from NASCAR, he is ready to add that to his routine.

“I haven’t actually [tried Alpha Prime’s products] yet — I talked about it a little bit with Tommy about getting the right stuff for NASCAR and everything,” Honeyman explained. “Taking some pre-workout is the biggest thing before going to the gym. So, if I could take some before the gym and do a little bit of advertising and grow that Alpha Prime brand and help as much as I can, that would be awesome.”

Family history/connections in racing

Being a Jr., where did the Honeyman racing lineage begin? Did Leland Honeyman, Sr. race?

“My dad, he grew up on a farm and ranch with thousands of acres,” Honeyman said. “He had go-karts, Camaros anything you could imagine. He was born in 1966, so, growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, I wouldn’t know, but from what I hear it’s pretty cool. A lot of people are like, ‘Bring it back, bring the theme or whatever,’ it’s way different now, but my dad grew up racing anything he could.”

Honeyman continued by explaining that his father never raced anything professionally in a series. He was more of a hobbyist gearhead. But it doesn’t mean that the elder Honeyman was any less passionate about motorsports.

“Oh yeah, he loves it,” Honeyman says of his father. “Me being in Xfinity, I’m sure he’s really, really happy. It’s definitely a life-long goal for me to be here right now. I’m really excited to see where this year goes. This year determines everything for me, you know? Going on 18 years old and being one of the youngest drivers in Xfinity this year is really cool to me, and I’m really excited.”

The younger Honeyman credits a Daytona 500 champion for his path to living in North Carolina and pursuing the dream of racing in NASCAR.

“I kind of have a family connection with Michael McDowell. I’ll see Michael here and there and we’ll talk. That’s kind of the biggest thing that got me to North Carolina,” Honeyman explained.

Realistic expectations

With his first-career NASCAR Xfinity Series start right around the corner, is Honeyman more excited or nervous for Phoenix Raceway? And what are the realistic expectations for his first race in NXS competition?

“See, there are both sides of me that are like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do really well,’ and then you have another side of me and it’s like, ‘I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot and be off to a bad start,’ keeping a clean car come back without a scratch, that’s the goal,” Honeyman said. “I really want to have a clean race and maybe top-20? That’s what I’m hoping for. If we can do that, that’s awesome.”

Going forward past Phoenix, Honeyman says wants to have better finishes as the year goes on and the end goal is to position himself for an expanded schedule in 2024 and beyond.

“For this year, I obviously want to get that top-20 at the beginning. But running in the top-15 this year is going to be really, really important for me. Because I’m so young, trying to get sponsors, trying to make it to the next level. Trying to race full-time,” Honeyman explained. “Right now, I’m not so much worrying about getting to Cup right now. Doing the stuff to be prepared for a full season is my biggest thing, and trying to get into a full season is my biggest goal right now.”

If things go well, could there be a path where Honeyman returns to Alpha Prime Racing for more races in 2024?

“It’s too early in the conversation right now,” Honeyman, who is focused on the task at hand, said.

Watch Leland Honeyman Jr. in his NASCAR Xfinity debut

Keep up with how Honeyman and the No. 45 Alpha Prime Racing team does in the driver’s NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Phoenix Raceway. The United Rentals 200 is set for Saturday, March 11th, and will be broadcast on FS1 beginning at 4:30 PM ET.

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