Racing has taken Sergio Peña places even he wouldn’t have expected.
After driving in the NASCAR Pro Series off and on for about five years, when that was over he still wanted to find a way to make driving a career.
Now, Peña’s day job consist partially of working as a security tactical driving instructor, training officials in the government, military, and “any 3-letter agency,” he said, on defense-level tactical driving before they deploy overseas or go to embassies around the world.
When he’s not in a police car or armored vehicle, Peña works as a performance driver, going to Formula 1 races in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada and doing hot laps for Aston Martin. He also works as a stunt driver, and recently did a shoot for the newest Fast & Furious movie.
While he may not be in racing full-time, Peña is still at a race track almost every day of the week.
“It’s been crazy,” Peña said of his new career. “Racing is all I’ve known my entire life, from go-karts starting at 6 years old and moving up the ranks.”
Peña starting racing in the K&N Pro Series, now known as the ARCA Menards Series, in 2010 with Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program. He stayed with Rev on and off for three years, moving between the East and West Series.
He returned to the East Series in 2015, and got back into a late model with owner Sam Beaty.
“I never really thought NASCAR would be an option and getting the opportunity with D4D, and when all that was said and done, I didn’t quite finish college yet, I kind of went back and forth between a hundred different things,” he said. “And you hear the stories a hundred different times about drivers who didn’t quite make it to the top level, what happens next?
“I’ve been so fortunate to continue to use driving to pay my bills and stay active at race tracks Monday through Friday really. I’m at a race track almost every day of the week. Maybe not in a race car but in a police car or some type of armored vehicle. Regardless, it’s a great time.”
Peña still finds time to get into an actual race car on the weekends, with a new opportunity this year. He’s driven full-time at Dominion Raceway, a NASCAR-sanctioned .4-mile asphalt oval track in Thornburg, Virginia, the last two years, and plans to return when the track opens the season this weekend.
He’ll drive for owner Travis Byrd, who will also serve as his crew chief, in a brand new car built by chassis builder Forrest Reynolds. The team is sponsored by Peak Roofing Contractors, who Peña said “without them this wouldn’t be possible.”
Peña said the team will try to run for a track championship at Dominion, while also going for a NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Virginia state championship and, hopefully, a national title.
“Primarly, just a new team, a fresh start,” Peña said. “It’s a brand new car with one of the best chassis builders around in late models… As far as this year goes, everybody is going for it 100 percent.”
Beaty will also be involved. Peña and Beaty have been working together since Peña was in high school a decade ago, before he began with Rev Racing. Before beginning with the Drive For Diversity program, Peña didn’t have any oval or short track experience, having grown up with a road course background. Beaty was the one who helped him get accustomed to a totally different style of driving.
This year will be Beaty’s last in racing, so not only is Peña trying to win a championship for his new team, he’d also like to send his 78-year-old mentor out with a bang. He said this year, “It’s all for Sam.”
“That’s the goal. Obviously you think about trying to do the best for yourself and everyone, but especially for Sam,” he said. “With work and all, I’m not able to always be there to help with the car and I travel with work a lot. And this guy, just by himself as an upper 70-year-old man, single-handedly builds these cars, puts them together, and keeps me active in racing, the last five or six years especially.
“I owe the world to him. There’s no way I could actually repay him for the things he’s done for me throughout my career. And the fact that he still wants to be a part of it and keeps pushing, it’s incredible.”
Trying to make his way in racing the last few years hasn’t been easy for Peña. He said he was running old equipment, not testing or practicing, mostly just showing up and racing. While he said it was fun and he appreciated getting to stay involved in the sport, he feels like he finally has all the pieces in place for something different this year.
Mostly, he’s just thankful to get the chance to spend more time in a car with people who have meant so much to him throughout his career.
“I think as a racer, at least for me, I don’t picture life without racing. And there’s never going to be a day I ever give up on it,” he said. “It goes beyond just racing. It’s family, it’s friends, the relationships you build throughout all of this. It becomes your life. I just couldn’t imagine life without it, really.
“I’m 28 years old now, and not racing full time. I’m not getting paid to race or anything, but I’m still able to have my name on the door of a race car and race on Saturday nights. It’s just incredible for so many reasons.”
Dominion Raceway will open the season on Saturday with late models, modifieds, Virginia Racers, Dominion Stock, UCars, Dominion Any Car, and Mini Cups.