Before ever coming to Florida to take over as the NASA Florida Regional director, Jim VanderVliet grew up in northern New Jersey and worked in commercial real estate in New York City. VanderVliet also spent six years in the U.S. Coast Guard running search and rescue boats in the Great Lakes.
He’s always had a passion for cars, but he really got hooked at his first HPDE event more than 20 years ago, and that, of course, led to him getting a competition license. He took an early retirement in 2010, relocated to Florida, and over the next five years devoted most of his time racing and becoming more involved in the motorsports industry in Florida.
In 2015, VanderVliet had the opportunity to acquire the NASA Florida franchise, where he’s been ever since. One of the high points of his stint as Florida Regional Director was the 2017 Eastern States Championships Presented by Toyo Tires at Sebring International Raceway.
“Since this was my first championship event with NASA there was a lot to learn,” he said. “Many racers don’t realize the effort required by so many individuals to coordinate a national event. It is always NASA’s goal to deliver great events and have our racers going home with a memorable experience. I believe we achieved this goal.”
He’s owned and raced lots of different cars, including a 2014 Mustang Boss 302, a Hoerr-chassis Trans Am Corvette, which he used to win Regional Championships in Super Unlimited in 2014 and 2015. He’s also owned a Riley Prototype, a Diasio D962R and a Toyota WSR sports racer.
We caught up with VanderVliet just after he finished hosting an event at Daytona International Speedway and after NASA announced its 2021 Championships Presented by Toyo Tires will take place at Daytona Sept. 16-19.
Q: You’ve just come back from a big event at Daytona International Speedway. Tell us how that went. How was attendance?
A: Attendance was fantastic, with over 300 drivers attending, considering the announcement for the 2021 Championships was not officially made until the day before the event. We believe this number would have been closer to 400 if the announcement was made sooner. Seems a lot of East Coast drivers were looking for a great event since the 2020 Championships were cancelled this year due to COVID-19.
Q: You’ve held events at Daytona before. What kind of feedback to you get from drivers about Daytona?
A: The last time NASA hosted an event at Daytona was back in 2015, and this event was long overdue. Everyone was excited returning to this iconic track. This was evident by the emails, Facebook postings and phone calls we received post the event.
Q: We know the Regional Directors from NASA Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Central regions were there. How many members came from out of state to run at Daytona?
A: Yes we had four Regional Directors attend the Daytona event: Florida, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Central Region. Was great seeing a few other RD’s attending. How often do you get four Regional Directors together outside a national event?
Q: Who came from farthest away? Any idea?
A: While 85 percent of the drivers/racers came from the Florida and Southeast Region equally, we did have drivers attend from five other NASA regions: Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, Mid-South, NOLA, and Texas.
Q: Of course, the cat’s out of the bag now. NASA just announced its 2021 Championships Presented by Toyo Tires will be at Daytona next September. What are some of your plans for that event?
A: While we are still in the early stages of planning the event, we anticipate this will gear up within the next month or so. I have learned it takes almost a year of advance planning to prepare. Don’t get me wrong. We actually started back in February and wanted the location for 2021 Championships to be special after an interesting 2020 year. We promise it will be very special, as always.
Q: When the 2021 NASA Championships have come to a close, and you can sit back with a cold beverage, what do you hope will have happened?
A: That the Florida Region once again delivered one of the best National Championships ever for our racers and members both on and off the track. I have learned that while NASA racers love to compete, they also love the “family friendly culture” we provide unlike any other organization.