With a résumé that features seven national championships and nearly 50 national event wins, Peter Biondo knows a thing or two about talent, so when he predicted Justin Lamb’s future greatness more than a decade ago, he wasn’t exactly going out on a limb.
“I got to know Justin after he asked me to come to Las Vegas and drive one of his cars in the Ultimate Gambler bracket race,” Biondo recalled. “We had great success, and it built our relationship. You could tell right away that he had what it takes. He was an 18-year-old punk, and yes, he was a punk, but I was impressed by how serious he was. He had a work ethic that was like Dan Fletcher’s, where he didn’t overlook a thing. Not too many people take the time to prepare cars the right way, but he was one of them; wise beyond his years.
“When I watched him on track, and the way he approached driving, I saw a lot of myself in him,” Biondo continued. “He was a lot younger than me and on the big [NHRA] stage, but he didn’t seem to feel the pressure. I just had a gut feeling that he was going to do great things and, obviously, he has.”
Biondo also recalled the story of Lamb’s victory at the K&N Spring Fling, the event that he co-promotes along with partner Kyle Seipel. Racing his Super Stock Cobalt against a host of dragsters, and without the benefit of a delay box, Lamb destroyed the field with a string of near-perfect reaction times.
“It was incredible,” said Biondo. “We actually took a picture of his log book because I think he was .00 for seven straight rounds, and he had to be because everyone he ran was going for the throat. I think that helped his reputation with Sportsman racers. He’d already won NHRA races, but that performance caught the attention of the best bracket racers in the country.”
In the last dozen years, Lamb has compiled a record that makes Biondo’s prediction seem a bit subdued, including five national championships and 25 national event wins in six different classes. In Super Stock and Stock, his bread and butter classes, Lamb has a national event double, and he’s one of only three drivers (along with Scotty Richardson and Jeff Strickland) to achieve the extremely rare national championship double. Lamb pulled that off in 2017, and for an encore, he nearly duplicated the feat in 2018 with a first- and second-place finish.
Lamb is well aware of his accomplishments, but he doesn’t dwell on them. He also doesn’t buy into his own hype. He’s quick to share credit for his success with his family and friends, primarily Biondo, and teammate Seipel.
“I certainly don’t think I’m better than anyone else,” said Lamb. “To me, it’s more like the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. Everyone talks about how Brady is the best quarterback ever, but I think you could replace Brady with any quality NFL quarterback, and they’d be great. The key is [coach] Bill Belichick; he’s responsible for all that success because he understands everything about the game. Whatever success I’ve had, it’s because of guys like Peter and Kyle, and, of course, my dad. That’s especially true with Kyle because he’s better than anyone at dialing the car and understanding the weather and the track.”
Like many of today’s most successful racers, Lamb got his start in the Jr. Drag Racing League. He was fascinated by the sport the first time he laid eyes on a half-scale dragster at a car show near his Henderson, Nev., home.
“I got one for my eighth birthday, but we knew nothing about drag racing,” said Lamb. “My dad always made sure I had the best equipment, but we didn’t know what to do with it. The Jr. Dragster was a big step in learning how to race. Once I got old enough for a big car, we built a Monte Carlo bracket car, and then after a while, I got my first Super Comp dragster.”
An admitted perfectionist with a low tolerance for failure, Lamb will even cop to Biondo’s assertion that in his early days he was indeed a punk kid, but he insists that those traits have helped fuel his success.
“As a kid, I was bad at it; I wanted to blame everyone but myself,” he confesses. “I’d blame the track or the car; anything but my driving. I got mad every time I lost, whatever the reason. I was a punk kid who never did anything wrong. I mean, I still don’t like losing, but now that I’m older, I’ve learned to focus and fix mistakes, and that helped me progress. I still expect a lot from myself and from others, and that’s not always a good thing, but I’ve learned a lot of really important lessons.”
At 19, Lamb won his first national event at the 2006 JEGS Pacific SPORTSnationals in Fontana, Calif. The win is noteworthy because he won the event in the Top Comp class, the only time that eliminator has been contested on a national event level. It didn’t take long for more wins, and notoriety, to begin flowing. Lamb bagged his first championship in Stock in 2013, and he has now been crowned the Super Stock champ in three of the last four seasons. Lamb’s 2017 campaign stands out because he joined a short list to win two championships in the same year. Winning one title is difficult enough, but two is almost unheard of. Lamb even changed Stock eliminator cars at midseason, parking his D/SA ’70 Camaro in favor of a new COPO entry but never skipped a beat.
Lamb may credit those around him for his accomplishments, but it’s almost impossible to deny his talent, and perhaps more importantly, his motivation to get the most from it. An admitted practice-Tree junkie, Lamb works hard on the mental aspects of the sport. With a family and a career as a business analyst for the City of Henderson, he has plenty on his plate, yet his thoughts rarely stray far from the racetrack.
“This is an overwhelming sport, there is no other way to explain it,” he says. “It can consume your life even when you don’t want it to. When I leave my office for the weekend, I don’t think about work again until Monday. Racing isn’t like that. At any time of the day or night, I might come up with something I need to work on. You have to be that way because the competition is so tough. I try to focus on things like handling a high-pressure situation.”
Lamb found himself in the sort of high-pressure situation he described last November in Las Vegas when he battled Division 3 ace Brad Zaskowski at the final Division 7 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event of the season. With the winner likely to be crowned national champion, Lamb produced a near-perfect run with a .009 light and an 8.672 on his 8.67 dial. Zaskowski wasn’t far behind with a .015 light and a 10.201 on his 10.20 dial. For Lamb, the win capped a season that not only included his fifth national title but also six national event victories.
“I guess that’s why I do some of the things I do,” said Lamb. “That race against Zasko, I like to think I’ve been preparing for that for the last 10 years. Given what was at stake, you’d be a fool to think it was going to be easy. I expected him to be almost perfect, and he was. That’s why we’ve already tested this year, and we’re going to go testing again before Pomona. People ask, ‘Why would you need to test after you’ve won three championships in the last two years?’ I have things I want to try. I need to keep learning. I don’t care so much about winning and losing as long as I can keep improving.”
The desire to better himself is exactly what keeps Lamb motivated to come back year after year. Admittedly, he doesn’t enjoy the extensive travel that often goes with a points chase, but when he finds himself in the thick of the battle, he can’t resist the temptation to see it to a conclusion. Given his family and business commitments, and hesitation to travel any more than necessary, Lamb admits that it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll ever join Dan Fletcher and David Rampy in the 100-win club.
“That’s not going to happen,” he laughs. “I don’t see myself getting to 100, and I might not make it to 50. Hell, I might never win another one. You never can tell. But, if 50 wins or 100 wins is the bar then that’s my goal. I’d love to win a few more championships as well. I still have goals. I haven’t won Gainesville or Indy, and those are two that I’d like to get. Both of those races are tough for me because they’re so far away.
“I also think It’d be cool to drive a Pro Stock car. I have zero interest in Top Fuel, but Pro Stock would be fun. At the end of the day, if I stop racing in five to 10 years, I’d like to be considered one of the best to do it. I feel like I’ve put in the work. Right now, I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. My son, Jayce, just got his first Jr. Dragster, and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with it. It’s a good thing that the new season is almost here, and I’m really looking forward to it.”