Just 17, D.J. VanderLey appears to have the total package when it comes to racing.
His 4.28 GPA and 33 ACT score proves he has the brains. A hunger to leave his Pro Late Model series rivals in his rearview shows you he has the talent.
VanderLey put the full repertoire on display, capturing the Pro Late Models season opener and holding off defending series champion Ronnie Smith on Friday at Five Flags Speedway. David Jones finished third.
“I didn’t expect that,” said VanderLey, who went to the front on Lap 1 and never relinquished it despite three restarts for cautions. “After the (Snowball) Derby, the last time we were here, we were decent, but nothing near what we were tonight.”
He was the car to beat all night after posting the fastest qualifying time (16.780 seconds). After the invert, though, VanderLey was second on the outside of Smith, who was second-fastest at 17.115.
VanderLey wasted no time in throttling his No. 2 car ahead of Smith’s No. 27. Try as he might, Smith could never push VanderLey out of that top spot.
Credit a Pensacola racing legend with helping to keep VanderLey in the lead.
“Eddie Mercer helped me out and gave me some driving tips before the race,” said VanderLey, who sat on the pole of the Snowflake 100 at the ripe old age of 15 in 2007. “I’m trying to have that kind of a career.”
He’s off to a good start.
Smith hopes to teach him a few lessons as the season progresses. He was determined to have no controversy in Victory Lane on Friday.
Smith captured the Pro Late Models title a year ago when a post-race inspection threw out the win of apparent champion Keith Thorpe.
Smith will have to wait, though, for his next checkered flag at Five Flags. Following cleanups after the last two cautions, he had great restarts on VanderLey.
But the kid pushed right back, the final time created a distance Smith could not overcome.
“Everything on (the pro late model car) is measured down to 1,000th of a percent,” VanderLey said. “I enjoy that aspect. It takes a lot of self-control and knowledge of what situation you’re in.”
The teenager is in the perfect situation after one race at Five Flags.
Greg Young overcame an early crash as the Super Stocks debuted with multiple cautions.
“That was a tough run there,” said Young, a Pensacola native, who held off a late charge from runner-up Paul Jean. “I was just glad we were able to get back to the front.”
Young collided early with Randy Thompson, who finished third, but managed to weave his way through the eight-car field and ahead of the pack.
Stevie Mercer waited out a marathon of a beginning to win his second Sportsmen feature in as many weeks.
It took four starts to get the first lap completed in the feature courtesy of several wrecks.
When it was all said and done, Mercer beat Steve Buttrick to the line with Bubba Winslow in third.
Make it two-for-two for steady Mike Goraum.
A week after capturing the season opener, the Cantonment driver started third in the 15-car bombers feature race, assumed the lead by the end of Lap 1 and never was threatened.
“Great way to start the season again,” Goraum said. “It’s fun racing these guys, and I hope I can keep it up.”
It was more of the same in the bombers division, and not just for Goraum.
Will Goulet, who finished second last week, found himself trying to catch up to Goraum all race long. The Navarre driver again drove home as the runner-up, as the top of the bombers points standings didn’t budge.
After opening the season with racing on consecutive weeks for the first time in the short-track’s distinguished history, cars won’t return to the Five Flags pavement will until April 9.
When they do, though, it will be in style as the Super Late Models hit the asphalt in the Pepsi Max 100, the first of five Blizzard Series races.