At 13, Wes Pyburn has three years to go before he can get his Florida driver's license, but Pyburn isn't the sort to wait around for a dumb slip of paper. He is already zooming around at up to 80 mph, and he already owns his own car, a bright red, 2,000cc Pinto stripped of its glass, headlights, taillights and interior trim and bearing a cautionary sign, "TEENAGE DRIVER." What is this kid doing? you might well ask. He's driving in the Mini-Stock division of Florida short-track races against people three times his age, and he ranks seventh out of 79 in his class, that's what he's doing. "You just saw the next Richard Petty," Orlando Speed World promoter Don Nerone marveled recently as Pyburn whizzed by.

The son of a chemical engineer and a housewife, Wes enrolled at 11 in a special racing instruction program for kids. Then he practiced under his father's supervision for three months at a local track. In his first race in May 1985, Wes, 12, finished last. The following November he won his first heat—and acceptance from his colleagues, who formed a double row, applauding and cheering as he returned to the pit.

So far, Wes's only injury has been a bruised left leg, which he banged against a roll cage—this despite numerous spinouts, one head-on collision, a brush with a wall that removed the Pinto's entire right front end and a catapult up and over a Capri that had spun out in front of him. ("That was fun," says Wes.) "He's smooth," says grizzled vet Bruce Maynard, 41, who is second in Wes's division. "He stays out of trouble. He's a natural." Keeping the Pinto in racing trim has cost the Pyburns nearly $20,000, which is about $19,000 more than Wes has won—this is not a high-paying game—but the burden is about to ease. A conglomerate of businessmen has just been formed to sponsor him.