Matt Weaver/NASCAR Ranting and Raving (SB Nation): Hey D.J. Thanks for taking time to talk to us today. To get things started, can you talk about how you got your start in racing?
D.J. VanderLey: I first started karting at age 4-12 at a local dirt track J&J Speedway (Grand Bay, Ala.) and continued there after they paved it and renamed it Sunny South Speedway. I got into Legend cars at many of the same tracks and did those for four or five years.
I moved on to trucks and have raced super and pro late models at Five Flags Speedway (Pensacola, Fla.) and Mobile International for past year and a half.
MW: Let’s skip ahead to the Snowball Derby last month. You finished second to Chase Elliott by less than a second and raced side-by-side with him for most of the final five laps. Can you talk a little bit about what was going through your mind, so close to the biggest possible win of your career?
DJV: During that last red flag period, I was thinking, “Oh my God, we’re here. This is it.” We spent very little compared to most of the other guys and we almost didn’t make it because of money.
Sitting second with five to go, I was in disbelief. That’s five of the hardest laps I’ve ever driven. What you saw of me in that car, that’s all I know how to do. We made contact off of turn two coming to the white flag and it worked in his favor.
MW: You and Chase Elliott made contact at several points during the race. He pushed you up the race track a bit aggressively with about 20 to go and I can’t help but wonder if that crossed your mind when you were racing for the win. Did you think about returning the favor over the final five laps?
DJV: I’ve seen too many races won that way. [People] bring up last year’s Derby where Johanna [Long] spun out Landon [Cassill] on the final lap. That’s not how you should race. It sucks being that guy.
I’ve been there too many times.
MW: One of the many subplots that played out at the end of that race was you running an engine built by your grandfather Paul, who passed away in April. That car had a lot of heart and soul in it. What was the thought process behind running that engine and how special was it doing so well in this race with it?
DJV: He started on that engine, an old TN2 motor in 2009 and finished it before the 2010 season. It was sitting in our garage floor ever since he passed away and when we blew a motor at midseason of this year, we decided to put it our late model and see what it could do.
MW: What’s on the horizon for D.J. VanderLey? Have you guys figured out a schedule for the 2012 season and where does school fall into all of this?
DJV: I’m attending Auburn University as a sophomore, working full-time towards an honors degree in mechanical engineering and that’s our chief focus. Not coming from a lot of money, I know my chances of driving for a living are kind of slim. Going to school means I have something to fall back on.
As for the racing side, we’re really not sure just yet. We have two cars, the super late model and our pro late model. We may even modify that pro into a super late model for 2012. We’re just not sure yet.
MW: When talking about funding a racing program, performing well at races like the Snowball Derby has to help. How much increased notoriety have you received as a result of how well you ran at the Derby?
DJV: It certainly doesn’t hurt. The phone’s been ringing off the hook since the Derby. People are definitely interested in getting on board. We’ve never performed this well in anything as big as that race and whether in our car or someone else’s we expect to be back next year.
MW: Is there anything you’d like to plug or people you want to give a shoutout to?
DJV: Definitely my parents for all they’ve done. They’ve done everything possible to help me even at their detriment. I’m really thankful for them.