What started as a one-race deal in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West has turned into a productive rookie campaign for Kody Vanderwal. The 16-year-old driver from Colorado was racing late models and trucks in Tucson, Arizona, when the K&N Pro Series West had its season opener in March.
Vanderwal was offered a ride for the K&N Pro Series West race and he finished in the top 10 in his debut. After the race in Tucson, Vanderwal had the opportunity to drive in the races in Bakersfield and Irwindale in California. After two more productive results, Vanderwal had the backing and support to continue the season.
“At the beginning of the year, I really didn’t have any goals,” Vanderwal said. “It was just a random chance. One race, one off deal thing.”
Vanderwal finished ninth in the race at Kern County Raceway, in Bakersfield, and was eighth in the race at Tucson, giving him two top 10s in his first two races. His results in Irwindale, a pair of 100-lap races, weren’t as good. He was 14th in the first race and 15th in the second race. Both were respectable finishes. More importantly, Vanderwal brought the car back in one piece.
“It was an awesome learning experience for me,” Vanderwal said. “After that whole deal, we decided to run the whole season. We’re all learning like crazy. It was a God deal. He wanted us to do this for a reason.”
Vanderwal didn’t disappoint. He had his best result at The Orange Show Speedway in California in May, a fourth-place finish.
“We were getting more comfortable. We were starting to work together better,” Vanderwal said. “We didn’t have an amazing car. We went down a lap early on. Had a few small issues. All this came down to attrition. All those guys kept wrecking each other. It was luck, good communication.”
He followed with perhaps his best race of his rookie season at Colorado National Speedway, his home track. He qualified 11th and worked his way through the field to finish fifth. His car lost second gear during the race and he had trouble on restarts. Plus he made contact with another car and suffered damage for a good portion of the race.