Presley Wilt and her dirt track UMP Modified #99 / All photos submitted by Josh Wilt

“Their gender didn’t matter”: local dirt track racer makes impact as young, female driver

BUCKHANNON – Dirt track driving is so much more than hitting the gas pedal and turning left. Upshur County is the home to a number of dirt track drivers who find themselves at Elkins Raceway week after week.

The story of Presley Wilt begins in a Mini Wedge go kart at six years old and quickly evolves into a fierce, female driver behind the engine of a roaring UMP Modified car, as young as 10 years old. Join My Buckhannon by reflecting on the past, present and future of the Wilt Motorsports racing team.

Presley first witnessed the world of dirt track racing at six years old. She soon found herself behind the wheel of a Mini Wedge car that same year.

“I was excited then I got out on the track and I was nervous,” Presley said. “I wanted to come off [the track] but my dad pushed me back out there so I kept going. I ended up winning multiple feature wins against an older group of kids then we moved up [to a bigger car class] from there.”

Within two years of Mini Wedge division racing at both Elkins Raceway and Tyler County Speedway, Presley valiantly brought home 22 feature wins.

Presley wins 2015 Track Champion for the Elkins Raceway Mini Wedge Division / Photo submitted by Josh Wilt

Following a successful two-season racing journey, Presley and her family took one summer away from time in the pits and racing at the track. However, that is not where her story ends.

At 10 years old and only 76 pounds, Presley left the Mini Wedge Division to strap into a roaring UMP Modified race car.

“It was funny because we put her in that car and it looks like she’s in a Gerber car seat,” said Josh Wilt, Presley’s father. “I mean, she weighed 76 pounds. I brought her to the high school and unloaded the car so she could learn to drive something with a clutch – she never drove anything with a clutch. She got used to kicking it in and out of gear. We put it on the trailer, went to Donnie Moran’s place [in Ohio] five days later and was flying around the racetrack.”

Her first Modified car ran at 450 horsepower. Once she left her mark as a serious competitor, Presley and her pit crew purchased and rebuilt a brand new model at only 11 years old. This time, the car ran at an impressive 730 horsepower.

Little did the fans in the grandstands know that this driver was an 11 year old girl.

“She ran with grown men,” Josh said. “There wasn’t a kids class [for Modifieds]. When she was out there in the Modified, she was out there – I’m 42 years old – with guys my age, 50 years old [or older].”

What could intimidate any young driver going head-to-head with more experienced drivers, Presley was not intimidated by others because of their car set up, experience or gender.

“It didn’t really bother me to be honest because most of the time I just hang out at my trailer and talk to my family,” Presley said. “So I knew [the older, male drivers] were in that car but their gender didn’t matter, it’s how you race. It was a good feeling to beat a lot of guys, but [gender] didn’t really matter to me.”

Josh confessed that he had never seen his daughter intimidated by other drivers, for any reason.

“She was never intimidated,” Josh said. “It’s all about ability in that car. It’s not so much a physical agility thing; dominant men against women. It’s more of a talent and a skill. The male or female part of [driving] really did not have a factor in [winning] at all.”

With an “almost scary” sense of calm and peace coming over her body before hitting the dirt, Presley was then ready to put the hammer down and drive. With many top five finishes in the Modified class as a clean driver, she accomplished that.

Presley confessed the want to drive and get better at it, while competing against so many different people, is what keeps her behind the wheel and in the pits week after week.

Another major factor in keeping Presley behind the wheel is the relationship with her father, Josh.

“He always knew what to tell me, how to drive on the track a certain way, how to set up the car to where it drives when the track is like that, and everything else [racing],” Presley said.

Presley Wilt in her UMP Modified race car/ Photo submitted by Josh Wilt

As a father and crew chief watching on as his daughter circles the track, it has been no easy task for Josh over the years.

“It’s a very mixed emotional thing. You’re happy. You’re excited. You’re a little nervous,” Josh said. “There’s times – while the race is happening – I literally can’t catch my breath because I’m watching it. I’m [thinking] ‘this cannot be good’. You feel helpless in the position that I’m in. I’m standing there behind a 20-foot fence and there is nothing I can do [if something goes wrong].”

You always think of the worst – or what could be the worst – so it’s hard to be a dad and a crew chief [at the same time],” Josh continued. “I’m thinking like a dad a lot of the times and I’m trying to be a crew chief too. It’s a mixed emotion. It’s tough.”

Although tensions are high in the pits as her family watches on, Presley confessed to My Buckhannon that the moment her crew pulls the race car into the pits, she does not think of anything else but racing.

“I don’t really think of anything else besides the track,” Presley said. “When I get to there, I don’t think of anything else. I talk to my dad. I don’t talk to anyone else.”

As the 2023 racing season has come to a close, Presley has her heart set on switching to a different driving class. She wants to compete as a Crate Late Model driver next season.

Crate Late Model cars oftentimes handle well and experience cleaner competition at the track. Additionally, Crate Late Model drivers across North Central West Virginia have greater convenience finding necessary parts for the race car at local shops. Whereas Modified drivers regularly travel out of state to find necessary parts for the next weekend’s races.

“I hope I do really well in the crate class and do hopefully better than how my races ended in Modifieds on feature nights,” Presley said.

Whether a young Mini Wedge driving hopeful or an adult looking to have some fun on the dirt, Presley advises to not overthink things.

“Don’t over think it,” Presley said. “Yeah, you’re going to be nervous and scared [your first time out there]. When you get out there and do a few laps, you be like, ‘oh, it wasn’t that bad’. Just go out there and drive it.”

Although racing is a strong passion for her that she shares with her family, Presley sees a future career off the track. With three years remaining in her Buckhannon-Upshur High School career, Presley seeks a future professional career in the healthcare industry as a nurse like her mother, Kristin Wilt.

Presley would like to thank the continued support of her sponsors and fans: Leisure World, Woo-Hoo LLC, Optimum Contracting, WV LandWorks LLC, Edwards Construction, Triple K Kustomz, Neels Fence, Next Level Excavating, Complete Transport, 5G Cattle Company, and Godwins Iron Works.

“The fans have been really, really good.” Josh emphasized. “And [Presley] being a girl and doing as well as she has over up through the years, [the fans] like that because [seeing her drive] was different.”

Follow Wilt Motorsports on Facebook to keep up with Presley’s racing journey.

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