Robert Pressley: A Man of Many Hats - TribPapers

Robert Pressley: A Man of Many Hats

Robert Pressley. Photo submitted.

Asheville – Known at Enka High School in the late 1970s as “Bob Pressley’s son,” auto racing’s Robert Pressley matched his father’s feats on the short-track circuit and surpassed them in NASCAR. Robert was later elected to three terms as a Buncombe County Commissioner and, in 2004, became the proud owner of Celebrity’s Hotdogs.

Pressley started out driving a delivery truck for Coca-Cola before he, too, drove high-speed stock cars for a living. Now he’s a Pepsi man, having switched to that brand at the urging of a loyal vendor. “That’s how I supported my racing,” Pressley said of his 14-year first career with Coca-Cola.

The “Bent Creek Bandit,” as Pressley was sometimes called, eventually strapped on a racing helmet and started to win, even beating his dad a few times. Along the way were short-track championships at New Asheville Speedway and Greenville-Pickens Speedway. He later went head-to-head with topliners in NASCAR, winning multiple times in the Busch Series and running a full schedule in NASCAR’s top circuit in 1995, when he was runner-up for Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year. He also had two wins in the Craftsman Truck Series, including his truck series debut at Daytona in 2002.

Photo submitted.
Photo submitted.


On a whim, Pressley remarked once that he’d like to own a hotdog place when he retired from racing. His family owned a small retail building near the entrance to Bent Creek and, at his daughter’s suggestion, the dream came true. “In the opening weeks they had the police out there directing traffic,” said Pressley.

Photos and memorabilia from his racing career adorn one side of the far wall with his dad’s highlights on the other. Stock car models, racing helmets, and framed clippings are strategically placed, even on the ceiling.

After 12 years as a hot dog man, Pressley was talked into trying his hand at politics. Mike Fryar, a friend and former county commissioner, said he’d be a natural. “[Fryar] had an engine company right across the street here. He built batteries and motors for me for years,” Pressley said. “We were sitting around one day” and Fryar said, “Why don’t you run for county commissioner?”

Pressley’s first reaction was surprise. “I don’t know about that,” he said. “I don’t want to get into politics.”

“You’ve got name recognition, and that’s what it takes.”

After more prodding, Pressley reconsidered and said, “You know, what have I got to lose? I’ll put my name in.”

His six years with the Buncombe County Commissioners was in District 3, serving the south Buncombe and Leicester communities. Of the coming election in 2024, Pressley said, “I urge everyone to get out and vote. If you want to make change, you must make your vote or there is no room for complaints.”

When he was in office, Pressley pushed for tax cuts, economic development, road infrastructure, education reform, and assistance for veterans and the elderly. Many assumed he would push for a new racetrack. With the closing of New Asheville Speedway in 1998, auto racing was done in Buncombe County, but Pressley never raised the question.

“I had people ask me, ‘What do you think about a racetrack?’ I said, ‘There ain’t gonna be one … so there’s no use even bringing it up.’”

Pressley was defeated for reelection in 2022. “It was the [new] people coming in,” he said of the county’s newcomers, who brought more changes in voting trends. “If Asheville Speedway was there today, it wouldn’t survive with the clientele that are here now.”

With a shift in the city’s dynamics, he added, “I was there to make sure that everyone gets a fair shake.”

At Celebrity’s Hotdogs, Pressley’s business clientele is local and from “everywhere. We get a lot of out-of-towners who read about it – [that’s] about 10 percent, maybe. At times, between 11:15 and one o’clock, the line is all the way to the door and it’s an eight-minute turnaround. We’ve got it down pat here on how to get people through here faster.”

Around 90 percent of his customer base follows motorsports. “It is a great conversation [starter]. We have just started doing these pictures in the last year.”

Pressley thought about installing a large-screen television at Celebrity’s for racing shows, but said, “You know, the way we are and as small as we are, we don’t need people sitting around. We’ve got to keep them flowing. In the summertime we have more space because people can sit outside. Some customers [take their food] and sit up on the Parkway. It’s already gotten to the point where we don’t want to grow any more.”