D.J. Vanderley came within a lap of winning the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida in 2011, but he narrowly missed out on the win when Chase Elliott was able to beat him to the checkered flag. Vanderley has done a lot of racing since then, but this year he’s scaled back his racing efforts a lot due to his new job with Richard Childress Racing.
The 23-year-old driver from Mobile, Alabama is now an engineer on the No. 2 car for Brian Scott in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Because of NASCAR’s heavy schedule, Vanderley has only raced once in 2015, but he’ll be back behind the wheel this weekend when the Southern Super Series presented by Sunoco takes to Crisp Motorsports Park, home of Watermelon Capital Speedway, in Cordele, Georgia on Saturday night.
Even though he hasn’t raced much this season, Vanderley explained that he doesn’t think it will take long before he’s firing off fast laps again.
“I think being able to turn a quick lap is just like riding a bike,” Vanderley told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “You don’t forget how to drive a race car. It may take a little while in practice to get in a groove, but once I get back in my rhythm and everything starts to jive I think we’ll have a real good shot at it in the race.”
Vanderley began working for RCR at the start of the year, and said that learning about everything those top teams use to go fast has been almost a whirlwind experience.
“It’s been a hectic few months trying to get in the groove with the new job and learning all the new software and technologies and everything that they have in the XFINITY and Cup level,” he said.
In addition to learning that new technology just for the sake of his job, Vanderley is now trying to see if he can use some of that technology to his advantage on the short tracks, starting this weekend at Cordele.
“It is fun trying to bring some of that stuff from that level and seeing what applies at this level,” said Vanderley. “I was talking to my dad the other day and he was asking what we do with certain things on those cars. I got to thinking that it’s the exact same train of thought to fix our cars.
“It’s cool seeing that it’s all just a race car. It is four tires, a motor, a rear end and a body. No matter how many millions you spend to make those things go fast, we still do the same stuff with a Super Late Model.”
In addition to being able to use the advanced technology to help out his racing program, he now has some of the brightest minds in racing helping him out, like the crew chief who has visited victory lane in the XFINITY Series with Austin Dillon twice already this year.
“Nick Harrison, the crew chief on the 33 XFINITY car has been kind enough to let me keep my car in his shop,” Vanderley said. “He’s been out here working with us and trying to help us figure things out in certain areas we were having issues with.”
Between the technology he’s been using and the help he’s been getting, Vanderley is as confident as ever about his chances of winning this weekend, even considering the fact that it’s only the second time he’ll have raced this year.
“I think we can win, for sure,” said Vanderley. “We have a bunch of guys who have won championships helping us out, and I’ve won races in the past. I know that is usually easy to say, but I honestly feel like we have a real good shot at it.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor -Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: DJ Vanderley Facebook Photo