Cory Hedgecock of Loudon has never been too far away from a race car. And since he was 8 he hasn't gone too long without being behind the wheel of one.
"That's when I started to run junior dragsters," Hedgecock, now 20, said. "When I turned 15, I got into a big dragster and raced those for several years."
Racing is a family business. Cory's grandfather, Mike Hedgecock, formed Eagle Racing Engines in Loudon over 30 years ago. Cory works there with his father, Chad Hedgecock, and his grandfather.
"(Cory) was probably 3 months old when he went to his first race," Chad said. "It's all we've ever done. He's wanted to race since he was probably 5 years old. You can't actually start racing until you're 8. It was everything we could do to hold him off until he actually turned 8."
Chad said racing has made a positive impact on his son, forcing him to keep his grades up if he wanted to get in the driver's seat. "It was a good deal for him," he said.
After racing dragsters for a decade, Cory made a transition into dirt-track racing at age 18 and he hasn't looked back.
"We started building motors for Brad Hall (a dirt-track driver from Knoxville)," he said. "I started going to the race track with him and Mike and was like, this looks kind of exciting. I talked my dad into getting me a car and letting me try it one weekend. Hell, I fell in love with it and that was it for me."
The family bought an inexpensive car to start Cory off. "Brad actually drove it two or three races for us to make sure the car was good," Chad said. "It was September that he started going to the track on Sundays after church and just made some laps to sort of get used to it. He did that probably three weekends and then we started letting him race. The first couple races he started at the rear and slowly got used to it to where he's at now."
Cory now competes among the top racers at area dirt tracks. He has picked up four wins in the 2013 season, including one he calls his most memorable at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap in June.
"There was almost 40 cars there and they were all very, very good drivers," he said. "We led 25 of 30 laps. The leader there for a little while, I couldn't get around him, but whenever I did we checked out. We had a really good night with a bunch of good guys. We killed it that night."
Cory said there is an added challenge when it comes to racing on the dirt track.
"Winning in a drag car, it's really complicated, it's very hard. You have to be very consistent and know what you're doing," he said. "That takes time. But dirt racing, it's just hard to go around a race track. It's very tricky. Every race track is different. You've got to learn throughout the night what the race track wants and what the car wants."
Of course, racing is more than a hobby. Cory said it's more like another full-time job.
"It's a good 20-25 hours a person trying to get the car ready throughout the week," he said. "That's washing the car, servicing it, bolt checking, servicing the car, servicing the motor, tires. There's a ton of time getting ready for the races just to give yourself a fair shot where nothing freak will happen because you just overlooked it."
Chad said 20-25 hours is pretty accurate on a normal, one-race week. During the July 4th week with multiple races, it can take even longer.
"Monday night is usually a wash night," Chad said. "There's probably four or four and a half hours on Monday night to get everything done. There's a couple nights we work a couple hours on the car getting it ready. There's a good part of the day Friday and pretty much all day Saturday. That's a normal week."
Despite the amount of work it takes, Cory said he wouldn't ask for anything different. He wants to continue racing dirt tracks, but would like to one day race the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
"I don't really care about running NASCAR or anything like that," he said. "I don't even think that would be as fun as dirt racing."
For Chad, who has taken home some drag racing victories of his own over the years, he'll be happy to watch his son wherever he races.
"I've probably had more run watching him win these races than winning my own," he said.