PINEY FLATS, Tenn. — Changes happen often in the motorsports world, both on the local and national levels. A major change will take place in 2014 for Hayden Woods of Piney Flats with his racing efforts, as former NASCAR racer Robert Pressley will head up Hayden Woods Racing.
Pressley led a revival of Kingsport Speedway over the past three seasons, bringing the .375-mile banked concrete oval back to life after having been closed for weekly racing the last eight years. Under Pressley’s guidance, “The Concrete Jungle” was one of the top NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanctioned short-tracks in the United States.
Woods is an 18-year-old senior at Providence Academy in Johnson City, with two full seasons of NASCAR Late Model Stock racing on his resume.
Pressley, an Asheville, N.C. native, won four consecutive track championships at his home-track of Asheville (N.C.) Motor Speedway from 1984-87. He captured back-to-back NASCAR Whelen All-American Series regional championships in 1987 and ’88, which he used as a springboard to the NASCAR national series, where he won twice in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and 10 times in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He also made 205 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts.
The Pressley family’s roots in stock car racing go back many years. His father, Bob, won seven track titles at Asheville Motor Speedway and the 1989 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series regional championship; and he was also a legendary competitor during the 1970s and early 1980s all around the Southeast in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman division. Pressley’s brother, Mike, also won two track championships at Asheville; while another brother, Charley, served in NASCAR Cup and Nationwide series crew chief roles. Robert’s son, Coleman, captured the 2010 United Auto Racing Association – Short Track Auto Racing Stars championship, and the younger Pressley also has some Nationwide Series starts.
Woods began racing ATV 4-wheelers when he was just 6 years old before switching to racing motocross bikes for a few years. From the age of 9 until 14, he raced go-karts with much success in winning a track title at Beechnut Raceway in Blountville, with one World Karting Association national victory and a Tennessee State WKA championship.
Getting behind the wheel of a Legends car in 2010, Woods recorded one victory. During the ’10 season and also in 2011, he competed in both the Summer Shootout Series and Winter Shootout Series events at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
The ’11 racing campaign could be described in one word – “phenomenal” – for Woods, as he captured 26 Legends feature race wins and track championships at both Kingsport Speedway and Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Va. He also visited victory lane at Newport(Tenn.) Motor Speedway and captured the Tennessee State Young Lions Division Legends championship, while also finishing ninth nationally in Young Lions points. The Hayden Woods Racing team elected to not chase points at any track last season, and instead their racing schedule included events in the Volunteer State at Kingsport Speedway, and in Virginia at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, and Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn.
In 15 starts at Kingsport Speedway in ’13, Woods captured three pole awards and recorded five top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. He had six starts at Motor Mile Speedway and consistently ran inside the top 10, but due to circumstances beyond his control was only able to record one top-10 finish. Woods ended the season ranked 91st nationally in the final NASCAR Whelen All-American Series top 500 driver standings.
Woods recorded one feature win and four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in seven starts at Lonesome Pine Raceway in ’13, where he also had three pole awards. He captured his first career Late Model Stock victory back in June on a night which featured twin Late Model Stock races. Besides capturing the victory, Woods also had two second-place finishes to his credit this season at LPR.
“After ending my racing career with NASCAR, and then owning a team with my son Coleman handling the driving duties, once we captured the UARA-STARS title back in 2010, the opportunity to lease Kingsport Speedway presented itself,” said Pressley at first of the week from his race shop. “With Kingsport having sat closed for almost a decade, I had my work cut out for me in getting the place back up and running. But the local race fans in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia really got behind what was happening at the track, and the three years I had operating the track were just great. I really want to thank the fans and also competitors who came out weekly to support Kingsport Speedway.” Pressley stepped aside from promoting Kingsport Speedway at end of 2013 to concentrate his energy on operating his business ventures in the Asheville area, while also keeping his options open regarding possible other avenues in racing.
“You know, I had a few good offers presented me to stay involved in racing,” Pressley said. “It really came down to what I thought was the best fit for me, where I felt the most comfortable. I had a couple of tracks that I could’ve gone to, but really, our three-year run at Kingsport Speedway was something special. So leaving Kingsport Speedway to go to another track just wasn’t what I wanted to do. It didn’t make any sense to leave a place you’d nurtured back to life and go somewhere else to rebuild weekly racing.” Not wanting to take over the reins of another racetrack, would Pressley possibly be interested in heading up a race team?
“Over the past three years at Kingsport, I got to sit back and watch and evaluate all the drivers. One that really caught my attention was Hayden Woods. As a 15-year-old, he just dominated the Legends division racing. When he moved behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock in 2012, during wintertime preseason testing, it was just remarkable how quickly he adapted to driving a full-size stock car. His two years racing the Late Model Stock, he’s done a pretty good job. He’s still young and learning, though.
“I got to talking recently with Hayden’s father, Tommy Woods, and once we talked about Hayden’s racing, we just reached a mutual agreement that I would oversee Hayden Woods Racing in 2014. I really believe Hayden and I will work well together. From my racing career that began at Asheville Motor Speedway, and took me to the highest level of NASCAR racing, I believe I have some things I can teach Hayden. I’m really looking forward to working with Hayden.”
Hayden is also excited about the opportunity to work with the veteran motorsports figure Pressley.
“Wow, I never thought when I showed up in 2011 at Kingsport Speedway to race my Legends car that one day Robert Pressley would be my mentor in racing,” said Woods with a big smile on his face. “I had a great guy in David Roope who oversaw my racing the past couple of seasons and David always had me really well prepared equipment, but we just lacked something.
“You can look at every driver in the pits at any track, and each driver will run a different set-up. What feels comfortable for one driver won’t necessarily feel right for another driver. I just feel that getting to work with Robert (Pressley) and him being a former racer, he will understand what I’m feeling in the car and we’ll be able to get a comfortable set-up underneath for me. With the Hayden Woods Racing equipment over inAsheville at his shop, Robert will be preparing the cars and hauling them to the track. Once school is out, I’ll also be over there at the shop and just hanging out with Robert and trying to learn all I can. I’m going to be a sponge and just absorb whatever Robert tells me. I’m really looking forward to this racing season to see what Robert and I can accomplish together.”
Hayden Woods Racing will concentrate its efforts this racing season to competing for the track championship at legendary Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, which will be the 63rd year of racing at the facility. HWR plans on participating in several preseason testing sessions to get Woods track-time at “The Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars.” The season’s first green flag will wave on Saturday, March 8.
Besides running full-time at Hickory this season, HWR will also race some at Anderson (S.C.) Speedway, Kingsport Speedway, and other NASCAR sanctioned facilities.
For the upcoming racing season Hayden Woods will chauffeur the Murphy Inc. Millwright & Rigging of Johnson City, Roadrunner Markets, Champion Chevrolet-Cadillac of Johnson City, Rustic Ridge Landscaping of Johnson City, Stay and Play at Home, Turbo Blue Racing Gasoline, Lone Star Super Gas Inc., Hy-Tec Specialty Coatings, Hedgecock (Race Cars) Racing Enterprises, Kowalsky Racing Engines, No. 87 Chevrolet.