Driver of the Month May 2020 – Chris Vanderwolk
Name: Chris Vanderwolk
City/State: Scotch Plains, NJ
Profession: Benefits Compliance
Daily Driver: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Current AutoX Car/Class: 2017 Chevy Camaro SS 1LE – CAM-C
Family: Wife and Kids – Julie, Hadley, and Laila
Service: I was Army National Guard for six years, got out as a Sergeant. (Chris, thank you for your service.)
What was your first car? My first car never saw the road, it was a 1980 320i. The first one with tags was a 1991 Civic. If only I’d known about autocross then!
What was your favorite subject in school? Spanish.
What was your first exposure to motorsports and at what age? My grandfather took me to an amusement park style go-kart track in Fort Lauderdale when I was 10. I must have spent half of his retirement turning laps there.
How did you get started in Autox? My friend Drew Hackett, of Penguin Garage, convinced me to join him at an Equipe Rapide event in Miami back in 2005.
What did you drive during your first AutoX season? A 2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started? Get a fast co-driver ASAP.
How many AutoX cars have you owned, Make Model? 6
2004 Spec V (STX) , 2005 GTI (DSP), 2012 Evo X (BS), 2014 FRS (CS), 1999 Camaro (CAM-C), 2017 Camaro (CAM-C)
Who is your biggest influence in the sport? Chris Carmenini. We co-drove for about six years, first in my GTI, and then his RX-8. We met because we both had the same generation VW and parked next to each other. In the last 12 years he’s pushed me to be faster and I think I’ve kept him honest most of the time. Our last co-drive was the 2018 One Lap of America, though we’ll surely have more in the future. We parked next to each other because we both had the wrong car, and ended up with a pretty awesome friendship.
The scariest moment as a driver? Last September I put my Camaro into a tire wall at NCM in the rain. I clipped the curb in the wet going over “Deception” as I was going back to throttle and lost the rear. It was in the middle of the GM strike, so parts weren’t available and it took four months and cost a pretty penny to get it back. Even with track insurance, it still stung. Definitely get track insurance!
In the past year or so, what have you learned to help improve yourself as a driver and car prep? It’s always the basics, get comfortable, look ahead, and attack.
Funniest autox story, if any? Back in 2005 I crashed my Spec V being a knucklehead, and my buddy offered me a co-drive in his STI the next weekend (thanks Drew!). We were driving on I-95 from Fort Lauderdale to Port St. Lucie and decided to embrace some goofiness. We put on our helmets, and as I was riding shotgun I pulled out the atlas like a rally cue sheet. We got some great looks from cars passing by in our faux-rally car.
Do you left-foot brake? Only when I want to put my face through the windshield.
Do you use a data logger/Video, if so how has it helped you? I use the Apex Pro and the PDR that’s built into the Camaro. Where it helps me most is in identifying where I’m going too slowly, which has been a specific area I’ve been working on with more track stuff.
Worst autox advice you ever received? Come back!
Best autox advice you ever received? Come back!
How do you critique yourself after a run? I just try to pick one thing I can do better on the next lap. If I try to do too many new things, I’ll end up messing up the whole run. So I’ll pick one element and try to make that better.
What is your primary goal for the 2020 season? Assuming we get to have a season, I need to get to an autocross early so I can get reacquainted with throwing the car around and sliding and catching it. This year will be my third time going to One Lap of America, and the competition is steep. We won our class and finished 8th overall in 2019, so I don’t want to fall too far in the standings this year. After that, I just want to have some fun.
The most fun autocross car you’ve ever driven? Hands down the Mercedes SLS. You were going to battle with every input.
Least fun car you’ve autocrossed? There was this one clapped out Civic at Waterfest one year that I thought was going to kill me.
What would be your ultimate car build for AutoX?
Do you play any online racing sims? Do you feel this helps in the real world? I do, and I’m terrible at them. I use iRacing and Assetto Corsa to learn unfamiliar tracks and try to stay sharp. It’s very helpful in terms of remembering to look ahead (I use a pair of VR goggles) and learning new layouts.
Websites/Forums/Podcast you check daily? Autox4u.com, Slipangle Podcast, Overcrest Podcast, 10/10ths Podcast. The brown board. Facebook.
What trophies or titles have you achieved? My NNJR SCCA Worker of the Year was perhaps the most meaningful trophy I’ve received, and since then the notable ones were 3rd Place in class at One Lap 2018, and 1st in Class and 8th Overall at One Lap 2019.
What made you choose your current autox car? I like to party? I was really impressed when the 6th Gen Camaro came out, and was paddocked next to the GM guys at CAM East in 2017. After talking with them throughout the event, and seeing the car up close, I decided on the way home that I was going to buy one. Chris Carmenini and I were scheduled to do One Lap 2018 in my 4th Gen Camaro, and the 6th Gen would just be so much better. One of the GM engineers hooked me up with employee pricing and a great sales guy out of Detroit, and about 10 days later I flew to Detroit to pick it up. About ten days after that Jeff Darbig and I were running it at Nationals. After Chris and I did One Lap mostly stock, I went a little wild with the modifications.
If you could pick anyone’s AutoX car to run at Nationals? KJ’s A-Mod car. I don’t know that I’d be able to do anything with it, but it’s the fastest thing out there.
What would be your ultimate car build for AutoX? Probably something for D Mod with lights and plates.
Drink (alcoholic)? Coffee. Black, hot or iced.
Vacation Spot? South of France
AutoX Site? Grissom, not so much for the site, but for the CAM crowd that comes out.