Kody Vanderwal will be making his third visit with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West to Kern County Park Raceway in California on Thursday.
To think, Vanderwal almost didn’t make it to his first race at Kern.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season opens in Kern County. Vanderwal, a 17-year-old driver from Colorado, is entering his second season in the K&N Pro Series West. He was supposed to race only one time, the season opener at Tucson Speedway in Arizona last year. But he continued, entering every K&N Pro Series West race and finishing in the top 10 in the K&N Pro Series West standings.
He doesn’t measure the success of his first season by the results of his races. He considers it a success because he started and finished every race on the schedule. He had two top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 14 races.
“I would definitely say it was successful considering the fact that it wasn’t planned at all,” Vanderwal said. “It was originally supposed to be just a one-race deal for the season opener in Tucson and it kind of snowballed into the full season. The end of the season wasn’t all that great. Still in the grand scheme of things ninth place in points was successful for our rookie campaign.”
Kyle Vanderwal had seven top 10 finishes last year in his first season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. (Otto Kitsinger/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Vanderwal didn’t start racing until he was 11 years old. But he remembers going to the race track with his dad when he was 6. He was able to work in the pit areas during the races and in the garage during the week. He was always around his dad, Rudy Vanderwal, and his cars.
When Kody turned 11, his dad put together a 1972 Monte Carlo for him to run in enduro races.
“That taught me a lot about how to pass cars, how to draft, how to control a car,” Vanderwal said. “Never had a whole lot of success doing that up until we modified that car slightly bit and took it to Colorado National when I turned 14 for the pure stock class. Nearly won my first race out. Ended up winning three races and finishing second in all but two of the other ones.”
Kody Vanderwal said he returned to dirt track racing after a stint on the asphalt track at Colorado National Speedway. But he has yet to win a race on a dirt track.
“I never did win a race. Something always happened,” Kody Vanderwal said. “I either ran out of fuel or broke a wire or had a flat tire or whatever, you name it. I still have never won a dirt main event.”
RACING-REFERENCE: KODY VANDERWAL
He will get another chance on the dirt when the K&N Pro Series West visits the dirt track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 30.
Kody Vanderwal is a junior in high school. He has been homeschooled and will be managing his school schedule with his K&N Pro Series West schedule and racing super late models at Colorado National Speedway. He also plays football for the Dayspring Christian Academy eight-man team. He’s a defensive end and offensive guard. But he is debating whether to play football in his senior season.
“I’ve never had a real passion for anything other than racing,” Kody Vanderwal said. “I’ve played football since the first grade. I may or may not play my senior year. I played last year. I would most likely be a starter on varsity. I’m not sure whether schedules will work out or not.”
His focus is on racing. He wants to improve on his rookie campaign. He knows the field in the K&N Pro Series West is competitive and talented. He got a taste of the depth of the field at the K&N Pro Series East season opener at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. He finished 11th in a car prepared by Bill McAnally Racing in a field that included some of the top teams and drivers from the K&N Pro Series East and West.
Vanderwal finished ninth in his first race at Kern County. He didn’t have quite the same result in his second trip to Kern County, in the season finale. He crashed his car in practice finished 18th in the team’s back-up car.
Vanderwal said he is looking forward to returning to the track in Bakersfield in the No. 43 Bultrite Signs/LaSalle Oil Toyota. His team, which is a joint effort between Patriot Motorsports Group and Flying Dutchman Racing, has expanded to two cars and is committed to running a full season. He has experience on the tracks in the K&N Pro Series West, which should translate into better results. He knows where he can improve at Kern County from the two races from last year.
“We should have had seventh (in the first race). I threw it away on one of the restarts,” Vanderwal said. “I guess that was inexperience. The last race of the season, we blew a right front (tire) in practice and destroyed the primary car. The backup car was hardly worthy of being on the track. It wasn’t a very good race for us. But we showed some speed in practice.”
The Bakersfield 175 presented by NAPA Auto Parts at Kern County Raceway Park will practice and qualify Thursday afternoon, with the green flag scheduled for approximately 8:15 p.m.
He has high expectations, but he doesn’t know exactly what kind of potential his team has.
“I don’t know exactly what to expect,” he said. “I know our cars are going to be more prepared. Our team is going to be more experienced. I’m going to be more experienced, so I expect to run better. I don’t know exactly what to expect about how much better.
“Basically, we’re trying to compete for a win. That’s what everybody is doing. What else are we doing if we’re not trying to win?”