Concord racer Payton Ryan prepares for Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Showdown

Payton Ryan may be in his rookie late-model season, but already the Concord resident is preparing for one of the division’s most prestigious events: Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Showdown.

Scheduled for April 24 at the historic 0.40-mile South Boston (Va.) Speedway, the late-model event is a fundraiser for the Denny Hamlin Foundation. The short-track event, a prelude to the NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend at Richmond International Raceway, attracts drivers from the Sprint Cup ranks as well as full-time late-model competitors.

NASCAR Sprint Cup driver David Ragan will be Ryan’s teammate in the Showdown, said the 15-year-old Cannon School student who enjoys English, writing and physics. Ryan also has played soccer, basketball and baseball.

“I’m looking forward to learning a lot from (Ragan),” Ryan said. “I’m really excited to race there.”

The other major late-model events on Ryan’s agenda this season include Martinsville Speedway’s Oct. 5 race that draws about 100 competitors; the Nov. 16 Myrtle Beach 400; and the Dec. 7 Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Fla.

Ryan is fourth in Hickory Motor Speedway’s late-model standings but says he’s not running for a track championship.

“I’m just trying to get all of the experience I can on different tracks … before I eventually, hopefully, move up to something else,” said Ryan, who said he is searching for sponsorships.

Ryan, a Jonesville, La., native, began racing at Monroe (La.) Motor Speedway after receiving a Bandolero for his 10th birthday. He raced in his home state for a little more than a year.

In summer 2009, the Ryan family drove their motor coach to North Carolina and lived in it in Concord while Payton raced several times a week.

The following year the family relocated to the Tar Heel state.

“We wanted to pursue my dream of racing – going to the top levels of NASCAR one day – and this was the best place to do it,” Ryan said in explaining the move. “Louisiana had one track and we really couldn’t get anything done there, so we packed up and moved here.

“My racing has really grown a lot since we moved. I’ve become a better driver with age and with racing the great competition that’s here. Also, being here around other race car drivers, getting to hang out with them every day and talk with them every day, it helps hone your skills as a driver.”

Ryan raced Bandoleros for two years, winning the Louisiana state championship. He continued to compete in Bandoleros for a short time after moving to North Carolina.

Ryan then stepped up to Legend cars, where he competed in three national events. Last year, Ryan won 20 races in the Legends Young Lions division, finished fifth in the national race at Lake Erie, Pa., and placed second in the national points standings.

When 2014 began, Ryan launched the late-model phase of his career with Five 4 Motorsports, competing in five consecutive pro late-model races in a car owned by Hoyt Demis, with Daniel Hemric as his crew chief.

Ryan made his late-model debut in January at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, Ga. He qualified fifth but was sidelined by a wreck on lap 36.

Ryan then headed to the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway, competing in four nights of the weeklong event before he again was sidelined by a wreck.

He since has been racing late-model cars for Fat Head Racing, owned by Jamie Yelton.

“We hope to do two or three more pro late-model races (this year) and as many late-model stock races as we can,” says Ryan, whose ultimate goal is NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

“It took me a couple of races to get used to full-bodied stock cars, how big they were, racing around other people. They’re a lot more fun because you get to race the best of the best. It’s more fun with more competition,” Ryan said.

Pressley victorious at Hickory

Kannapolis resident Coleman Pressley scored his first X-1R Pro Cup Series victory April 5 in the Catawba Valley 250 at Hickory Motor Speedway.

It was just the fourth start in the series for Pressley, whose day job is serving as Mackena Bell’s crew chief in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East.

Pressley said he wasn’t sure he would be able to compete in the Pro Cup event until late in the week, after he completed his work at the K&N team’s Concord shop.

“My dad (former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Robert Pressley) was able to help me get the car together, and it all came together,” Pressley said.