2014 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Tennessee State Champion Kres VanDyke lives a life incomparable to any other short track race car driver in the country. On a weekday afternoon, you will find him in his team’s garage turning wrenches on their No. 15 Late Model Stock Car. But when the clock strikes 11:30 p.m. the chances of finding him at ground level are slim to none.
VanDyke works the overnight shift between the rocks as a coal miner for a Tennessee coal mining company. His shift normally lasts from 11:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. When he gets out of work and back to ground level, he finds a few hours to sleep or goes straight to the race shop to prep and maintain his championship-winning race car.
“It’s a real strenuous job,” VanDyke told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It’s dangerous. You’re working between two rocks every day. Anything can happen there.
“I work underground about 10 hours a day. We work an average of 50 hours one week and 60 hours the next week. I work on the race car during the day when I should be sleeping and getting some rest. But we have to suffer to get the cars going and make sure they’re maintained, ready and prepped for the weekend. Sometimes I test during the day at the track, come back home and go back to work.”
Sleep or no sleep, VanDyke proved that hard work and dedication pays off. This season competing at Lonesome Pine Raceway in Virginia and Tennessee’s Kingsport Speedway, he recorded 10 wins, the track championship at Kingsport, the combined championship between the two tracks and the 2014 NWAAS Tennessee state championship.
The 34-year-old Virginia driver was quick to be humble and pass a long a lot of the credit to a few new “lions” that joined the team for the 2014 season.
“This year has been an exceptional year,” said VanDyke. “We’ve had the year of my career right here. We’ve had a remarkable year. A lot of new guys have started to help us this year. Young guys that want to learn. They’re a bunch of lions. They’re hungry and want to win.”
Even with a crew full of hungry lions, VanDyke still spends countless hours turning wrenches and getting the car prepared each week. He considers his time under the race car to be relaxing. So relaxing that sometimes he closes his eyes, takes a nap and catches up on few hours of sleep.
Recently, while preparing the car for the MDCU 300 at Martinsville Speedway, VanDyke said he took a quick nap under the car before loading up and heading out to the trace track.
“We were actually checking the u-bolts on the driveline and I woke back up an hour later,” said VanDyke. “It was when we were loading up getting ready for Martinsville. We worked all day long and finally got everything done by one o’clock in the morning. We loaded up, drove up there and got there around five in the morning.”
The lack of sleep does result in VanDyke being grouchy at times, but he has a great group of family and friends that support him with both his work and racing career. He said that his wife, Erin, does a great job of putting up with him on the rare occasion that he does get grouchy.
“She takes care of me,” VanDyke said. “She put up with me all year long being grouchy. You stay up all the time and kind of get grouchy, but she understands. The whole family understands. Mom, dad, they’ve all been there and supporting me. It’s tough, but everybody jumps in to do what they need to do to pull it all together.”
VanDyke’s second wife, of the four-wheeled kind, holds a very sentimental value to him. “She” has been with him since 2003 and has been through a lot on “her” way to winning a NWAAS State Championship. That fact alone is making it difficult for VanDyke to decide on whether or not he wants to upgrade his equipment to compete for a NWAAS National Championship in 2015.
“I don’t want to get rid of it,” said VanDyke with a smile. “It is a sentimental thing. Me and that car have been through a whole lot. It’s got a lot left in it. I think she’s not a backup car. She’s a number-one car, but I feel like there are a lot more opportunities for us to go faster and a lot more advancement there. Having a new car with this car as a backup I think that we could give the national title a new shot. If it’s better, it’s better. If it ain’t, I’ve still got her to run.”
Despite the hectic life style that comes from working as a coal miner and competing at two different race tracks, VanDyke said that he wouldn’t change if or the world. Racing is what he loves to do. Working as a coal miner is how he’s able to do it.
“I’m going to keep on pushing it and I feel like there’s a spot for me somewhere. That’s why I keep on doing it. I’ve got to work to keep on racing. I have some sponsor help, but most of it comes from me going underground doing work in the coal mines.
“It’s a passion and it’s a way of life for me. I’m not going to change it.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo Credit: Kres VanDyke Racing Facebook Page