Young desert racer takes old-school route

Robby Woods is a tough guy to interview.

But once he’s able to break away from welding and working on his race truck — or taking calls for his family’s Pahrump-based towing service — the budding racing star sounds much wiser than his 23 years.

"We only have one phone in the shop, and I have to take calls for towing," Woods said early this week while preparing his two-wheel-drive Ford for this weekend’s stadium-style off-road race in Lake Elsinore, Calif. "I’m really sorry, but I have to take this call."

Moments later, he returned.

"Sir," he said, "I apologize. But I’m back."

Woods is a throwback to a time in racing when drivers built and worked on their vehicles as well as raced them — and to a time when people had manners.

He’s old school with a look toward the future.

Woods claims to be the only owner-builder-driver on a major national racing circuit.

It’s hard to argue with that in an era when many drivers’ images are as polished as their manicured nails.

"Our fans can relate to me because I come to races with grease under my fingernails," Woods said.

Woods grew up in a race shop, where his father, Bobby, built and raced stock cars in regional and national series. The elder Woods now handles engines and transmissions for his son, who does everything else.

It sounds like an old NASCAR family from the South, but the Woods live in Pahrump.

The second-generation racer also is as eloquent and reflective as any driver I’ve interviewed.

"I’ve just worked my ass off to get the money we have to go racing," he said. "It’s an epic rags-to-riches story, but I haven’t gotten rich yet."

To generate funding a couple of years ago, Woods used one of his father’s flatbed tow trucks to go around Pahrump buying recyclable steel for between $50 and $100 a ton, then selling it for $200 a ton.

He raised enough in a year to begin designing and building his first short-track desert truck.

Woods had time for his metallurgical scavenger hunt after spending the previous 18 months recovering from a motocross crash that shattered his right leg.

He had been a top amateur motocross racer with factory support from American Honda. But after his crash in 2006, he realized it was time to shift to four wheels.

"I grew up with motocross, but after that accident I needed a new purpose," Woods said. "I always had a passion for jumping, turning and mixing it up. I always aspired to race trucks."

Recycling provided seed money, and after proving his one-man gang could compete — he’s seventh among 17 drivers in Lucas Pro 2 points — Woods recently landed sponsorship from Lucas Spray Mist and General Tires.

He said it costs about $7,000 each week to race competitively. "The sponsorships now cover my cost to race. I can make a living and do what I love."

Woods focuses on the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing series.

The other series is THE Off Road Championship series. Yes, the capital letters in the name are intended to reinforce its claim as THE stadium racing series.

Time will tell.

The biggest obstacle Woods might face is surviving in a form of racing that has two series battling for supremacy.

Just ask anyone who follows open-wheel racing, which has suffered since 1996 when the Indy Racing League began and the rival Champ Car World Series watered down the competition and crowds before folding two years ago.

The Lucas Oil Off Road series opened its season at a course in Primm and will return there for its finale.

The TORC series, sources say, will run its season finale Oct. 24 and 25 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s dirt track.

Woods will compete in each Lucas race and plans to race in two TORC events, including the Las Vegas stop.

"It would be awesome if there was one unified series," Woods said. "Having two series has damaged the competition level and how many teams show up for the races.

"We’ll keep truckin’ with a positive attitude. We started racing because it was fun, not because there was a killing to be made doing it."

As I said, he’s old school.

Jeff Wolf’s motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf’s motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal throughout the week.

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