Lee Tissot Overcoming Tough Odds at Kingsport Speedway
A championship winning driver is turning his season around after a dismal start.
Lee Tissot, 42, of Arden, N.C., began the year with optimism after finishing second in the 2011 NASCAR Late Model point standings at Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway. He placed second to Nate Monteith in the track and state NASCAR point races.
Tissot’s optimistic outlook was quickly replaced by frustration as the new season unfolded.
“We started out this year wrecking every week, whether we had help or just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I really got down on myself and I was totally out of money for racing. I stayed home one Friday night to regroup and missed a race.”
At about the same time, Tissot’s spotter Kevin Morgan heard about a potent new team that was getting a late start on the season. They were about ready to go racing, but hadn’t committed to a driver.
“My crew chief Dave Ball, Kevin and I went over to the J&J Racing Engines shop in Kingsport, met the car owner Willie Hamilton of Anytime Fitness, Joey and Jeff from J&J and Jason Herring. They have a great car and a great team. They could have had any driver they wanted and they picked me,” Tissot said. In addition to Anytime Fitness, other car sponsors include Kingsport Credit Union, Kingsport Eye Care and Meadow View Dentistry.
“I felt like things were finally coming together,” Tissot said. “I knew I was having bad luck, and I knew I could still get the job done.”
Tissot was involved in an accident his first night out with the Hamilton/J&J team, but he knew he was driving a hot-rod. The second week out, he finished second.
“The third week we had twin 30s on June 8. We won the first and finished fifth in the second. That was a big load off my shoulders.”
Through last weekend, Tissot’s 14-race record is one win, seven top-fives and eight top 10s. He’s seventh in track and state points.
Driving for the new team relieved Tissot of being a talented but under-funded owner-driver.
“I’ve been trying to make it on my own,” Tissot said. “Last year I started the first race of the season with $45 in my pocket at the track. If I hadn’t finished second, it wouldn’t have paid my tire bill on opening night.”
He went on to post a hard fought 21-race record of five wins, 18 top-fives and 20 top-10s.
Tissot began his racing career at historic Asheville (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The rounded square paved track hosted some of NASCAR’s all-time greats. When the place closed and the property converted to a public park, the track was spared as a shrine to its 40-year racing history. Tissot was the Asheville’s Late Model rookie-of-the-year in 1991. He won the division’s championship in the track’s final two seasons of 1998-99.
“Bob Pressley, Robert Pressley, Mike Pressley, Pete Silva, Randy Porter… we had the best there was at Asheville,” Tissot said. Earlier generations saw Ralph Earnhardt, Ned Jarrett, Cotton Owens, Jack Ingram and David Pearson among many other stars compete there.
Today, Robert Pressley is the promoter of Kingsport Speedway.
“Robert was a great driver and now he’s giving fans a Kingsport some great racing,” Tissot said.
Tissot’s father Randy competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series sporadically in the mid-1970s, then the NASCAR Sportsman division, followed by the first two seasons of the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 1982-83.
“Dad raced all over and where my interest in racing started was hanging around the shop. When I got old enough, some friends gave us an old Monte Carlo in 1987 and we made a Street Stock out of it. I won in my third race at Asheville.”
After Asheville closed, Tissot spent some time in Late Model touring series including the former NASCAR All Pro Series. He won a UARA series championship in 2003 and raced with the series through 2010. Pressley re-opening Kingsport Speedway last year brought Tissot back to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Tissot won’t concede the 2012 point races despite the slow start to the season and the missed race night.
“You get your best 18 finishes in the state point race,” he said. “We might be behind, but we’re not out.”