Sports & Recreation

17-year-old drifts into professional race car driving

Adam Lemke hits the track for fun and profit.
Whenever he's not racing professionally, Lemke races for the pure fun of it.
Whenever he's not racing professionally, Lemke races for the pure fun of it.
In 2019, Adam drove car #98—a Chevrolet late model stock car—for the Dale Earnhardt Jr. JRM Racing Team.
In 2019, Adam drove car #98—a Chevrolet late model stock car—for the Dale Earnhardt Jr. JRM Racing Team.
When he wins he now keeps the prize money.
Lemke first raced stock cars at the Madera Speedway.
Lemke first raced stock cars at the Madera Speedway.
At just 17, Lemke already has fans.
At just 17, Lemke already has fans.

Adam Lemke, 17, is a professional race car driver who began to think about driving fast for a living when he was nine. Because his father Rodney was a serious racing fan, Adam more or less drifted into the sport. He said his father took him to a NASCAR race one year with quarter midget cars for fans to look at.

“We looked at each other and he asked me if I wanted to try it out,” Adam said. “We had no intention of getting this far. We just wanted to have fun, but it turned into something I really enjoy and take very seriously.”

Lemke attended school in Hollister until his sophomore year at San Benito High. When he and his father decided to devote more time to racing, he enrolled in computer classes and studied online from home. 

He advanced from the quarter midgets to mini cups, which are quarter-sized NASCAR stock cars. By age 16, he was driving full-sized late model stock cars at the Madera Speedway, where kids as young as 10 can drive.

Rodney Lemke owns ADL Construction in Hollister and sponsored Adam when he first started out, footing the bills for cars, fuel, maintenance, and clothing to keep racing. When he got into stock cars, he said driving turned from a hobby to a job.

“If you want to be competitive in this sport you’ve got to put your all into it just like anything else, so we decided to pay to race for a team,” Adam said. “That worked out really good for us because when running for yourself, owning all the equipment and the cars is a little better because you have control, but we decided to basically rent a car. It’s a little bit more money, but you don’t have to worry about mechanical failures. I just show up and drive the car and we split the winnings.”

In the beginning, Adam said, you’re paying to do something you like, “but if you get far enough into it, hopefully, it starts to pay you back. We like to stay busy, so I try to race for a bunch of different teams. We want to take this seriously. I want to race with the best equipment out there, so I’m running for two different teams on the West and East coasts.”

On the West Coast, he races under his own Adam Lemke Racing banner for John Krebs out of Roseville; he also just signed a contract to race for Lee McCall on the East Coast. In 2019, Adam drove car #98—a Chevrolet late model stock car—for the Dale Earnhardt Jr. JRM Racing Team.

“I ran 18 races with him and that’s definitely one of the highlights of my career, so far.”

He said he was able to land deals on both coasts not by winning every race, but by being consistent, and being comfortable in front of cameras doesn’t hurt.

“You have to be good on the racetrack, but you also need to have a good TV presence off the racetrack because there’s a lot of media in racing,” he said.

Crew Chief Tony Caputo said Lemke has “a great natural ability behind the wheel.”

“He can tell me what he needs the car to do in certain places of the track to make him comfortable behind the wheel and to get faster,” Caputo said. “He is always open for new information to go faster and he is a great student of the sport.”

At 17, Adam considers himself a latecomer to racing compared to other drivers, like Earnhardt Jr, who grew up in racing families. While he hasn’t landed any big winnings yet, he and his dad are working to build a social media profile to promote himself as a racing entity, and it’s starting to pay off.

“We’re still paying to drive, but we get to keep the purses now,” he said. “In the CARS Tour, which is the series I’ll be racing on the East Coast, if you finish dead last you’ll make $800. It increases as you move up in the ranks, and if you win you get $16,000.”

Outside his Hollister home sits a Lemke Racing van; inside is a quarter midget car, which he said he still likes to take out to the track now and then.

“If we don’t have something happening on the East or West coasts, we like to go out and knock out a race just for fun,” Adam said.


John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]