Just days removed from celebrating his 18th birthday, Colorado second-generation driver Kody Vanderwal is eager to start the 2019 racing with another big victory in the desert this weekend. Vanderwal, who swept a pair of NASCAR K&N Pro Series West races at Tucson Speedway (AZ) in 2018, will start his season in style during the 6th Annual Chilly Willy 150 on Saturday night.
Kody and his father Rudy Vanderwal are no strangers to the 3/8-mile facility in the heart of the Arizona desert, having run all throughout the calendar year. It should come as no surprise that both the track and the race have become personal favorites for the family.
“We love going to the Chilly Willy. It’s always a lot of fun down there, and we also have done some weekly racing at Tucson a couple of years ago," Vanderwal told Speed51.com. "I got a lot of laps there now and it’s become one of my favorite tracks now. There’s three good lanes and even more if you look hard enough. I don’t know of any other track that I’ve been to that you can run that way.
“John Lashley has done a great job at getting this race together, I think it’s a big deal to be the first race of the year. It gets a lot of attention, there’s a lot of people traveling from all over the place.”
Tucson will always have a spot in Vanderwal’s heart for the rest of his racing career after he outran the big teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West twice in one night to get his first career wins last year.
“That series is so competitive and it was really special for us to win with our small team, which doesn’t really happen a lot these days with all the big teams dominating," he stated. "We hit on something that night, plus with my experience at Tucson, we played the strategy right both races, and it was a lot of fun.”
Now Vanderwal is looking to transfer over the good fortune from his NASCAR Stock Car over to the Super Late Model in a race that has not been kind to him, despite his affinity with Tucson.
“We got a good chance. We’ve always had good cars down there with the general setup we run on our Super Late Models. But we’ve also had a lot of bad luck in the Chilly Willy or the Turkey Shoot 125 in November with wrecks and other stuff.”
Vanderwal is really hoping that he can go into this weekend free of bad luck after a dismal Chilly Willy in 2018.
“Last year started off with lots of trailer troubles on the way down there, so we were late on Thursday. We started in the back on Thursday’s race, then got wrecked in Friday’s race and had to rebuild the right-front. Saturday morning the one suspension piece we didn’t replace broke our second lap out and sent me into the wall, so we had to rebuild the right side, again,” Vanderwal explained.
“My day was crazy, but we got back out there, but we cracked the battery in practice and changed it during the race so we got a few laps down. My dad had a little better luck most of the weekend, until he got in a big wreck. Hopefully we’re due for some good luck this year.”
With the offseason now behind him, Vanderwal is more than ready to get on track and go for one of the West Coast’s big Super Late Model prizes.
“We completely rebuilt the front end of my dad’s car from the last Chilly Willy; it took until now to fix. Mine is coming out of the Challenge Cup at Colorado National, and it was pretty good there. I think we got a good shot. We’ve been close speed wise in the past, it would be great to finally win it.”
The Chilly Willy 150 Weekend begins Thursday with practice and a 50-lap feature for Super Late Models. That will set the stage for qualifying and qualifying races on Friday night prior to the $10,000-to-win main event on Saturday.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor - Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com