Some of the biggest news for us this year is the addition of a teammate, Chelsea Denofa. He is 20 years old and he has been a killer competitor. — Vaughn Gittin Jr., RTR Motorsports
That one season you were a privateer battling it out in the highly competitive Formula Drift ranks against the likes of Vaughn Gittin Jr. Then, in a moment, your fortunes changed and you joined the RTR Motorsports ranks as his teammate. That’s a change of fortunes as sudden as flicking a car at the apex, but that’s just what happened for a young drifter.
“Some of the biggest news for us this year is the addition of a teammate, Chelsea DeNofa. He is 29 years old and he has been a killer competitor, but being that he was a team owner, an engineer, and a driver for himself, he had just been really struggling,” Vaughn explained. “He is someone that I have battled with and seen come up through the years that has the passion and we just really wanted to bring on a second team for commercial reasons, but also it just feels good to give someone a shot.”
We had the pleasure of chatting with Chelsea DeNofa between qualifying sessions at the second round of the Formula Drift series in Orlando, Florida.
That shot was more than just a piece of advice or a sponsor decal, however. Chelsea is a full-fledged member of the team. He has his own 1,000-horsepower Mustang RTR Spec 5-D competition car and he has the full support of the team’s main man.
“It’s been a lot of fun for me, not only as a team owner, but as a teammate. He’s been very helpful,” Vaughn added. “I have been, very quickly, getting him adapted. He comes from turbocharged BMWs, so no he’s got all this torque and a different car, so I have been slightly calming him down to get him to where he needs to be in these things.”
And, so far it looks like Chelsea is exactly where he needs to be. We had the opportunity to chat with him at Round Two of the Formula Drift series at Orlando Speed World recently, and it was interesting to learn just how this affable young man made his own luck and quickly the embraced his new steed…
FordNXT: What was your background before joining RTR Motorsports?
Chelsea Denofa: …I’ve been driving Formula D for six years. I drove previously in a BMW. I had an E36, which is a ’92-’99. Then I had a ’99-2005 E46 chassis. I worked a out on R&Ding that chassis and my team was basically 100-percent me, then I had a team that showed up on the weekends so that I could concentrate on driving, but behind the scenes it was pretty much all me. So, leading up to the RTR stuff it was a lot of work, stress and headaches running the program, team and everything. So, it was exciting stepping into this and having a little bit of that weight off my shoulders.
Last season, Chelsea Denofa competed in Formula Drift as a one-man team. This year he has the full support of the RTR Motorsports team.
FordNXT: What’s it like going from competing against Vaughn to working with him?
CD: It’s definitely the same. We are still competitors, but a win for him is a win for the team. A win for me is a win for the team as well, so we work together with both cars to have a better car overall. Every lap that I do is basically two laps for the team, so it’s solid. Vaughn and I have a great relationship. We get it. We work together really well. If I had to join a team, this was the one to join.
FordNXT: How did joining the RTR Motorsports team come about?
Yo, if you are running two cars next year, I am driving the other car. —Chelsea Denofa, RTR Motorsports
CD: It was a Irwindale last year and I had a pretty bad weekend. I blew my motor the second lap out on track. Then I borrowed a car and I crashed that car on the second lap out on the track. Then I missed my qualifying by like a foot. I straightened out right on the finish line and the zero’d me. I was like, ‘Man, all this stress and everything I’m doing is causing me to make too many mistakes.’ So, I went over to Vaughn’s trailer, and I was like, ‘Yo, if you are running two cars next year, I am driving the other car.’ He was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said, ‘I am driving that car, so you make a list of things I need to be able to drive the car and I will have them done for you and we’re going to drive together.’
Chelsea boldly told Vaughn Gittin Jr. that he was going to drive the team’s second car and weeks later that deal actually came to fruition. (Photo Credit: RTR Motorsports)
FordNXT:Had you heard that he was going to have two cars?
CD: It had been a rumor for the last few years, but it never really happened. I think he was getting to that point where he really wanted to, but I don’t know if it would have happened if I didn’t step up and do that, but was kind of on, I don’t want to use the term ‘last-ditch effort,’ but I was. And, I was like ‘I got nothing to lose. I’m probably not going to drive again unless I can find some larger financial support and things like that.’ And, after having a rough season before where we had so many mechanicals (failures) before, I got nothing to lose. Vaughn is straight with me and I am straight with him, so I just told him, ‘This is how it’s going down. If you are running another car, I am driving it.’ He was like, ‘Alright.’ We made it happen and we got my partners onboard and within three weeks of that conversation we were starting to work out deals. It kinda shows that if you want something and you just go for it, that it can happen.
FordNXT:Can you contrast the Mustang with what you were driving before?
CD: It’s a phenomenal car. It’s super adjustable. The car itself is very receptive to driver inputs, so being that I always ran my own team and I built my own shocks for the car and built by own everything, coming to a car like this — even before I drove it — and just looking it over I could tell this thing is gonna work. The team did a great job building it. Then, after driving it, it quickly got to the point where everything we changed was going in the right direction or if it didn’t we know how to change that. It’s a great car. It’s a great chassis and their community is rad. The Mustang community is just awesome. It’s definitely a great team to be a part of and a great car to be a part of well.
FordNXT: What’s it like have a team like this to help you out?
CD: It’s pretty wild. It’s nice because you have all the tools to succeed, so it’s all on you, which is great. I love it, because I can go out and make adjustments in my driving and tell the team what I need them to do to give the car what I need. They are super-receptive to everything and it works great.
Chelsea made the transition from piloting a BMW powered by a turbo/nitrous 3.0-liter to a Mustang RTR powered by a 1,000-horsepower, naturally aspirated Roush Yates small-block.
FordNXT:How does it feel to drift with a big, gnarly V8 under the hood?
It’s like the gas pedal is directly connected to the rear tires. You just press on it more and it spins the tires more. — Chelsea Denofa, RTR Motorsports
CD: It’s definitely interesting. My car before was a 3.0-liter that was like 180-something cubic inches. It was turbocharged and we used nitrous. We ran a big shot of nitrous and a ton of boost to make a power band that was good. We made 800 lb-ft of torque and 800 horsepower. This makes a little bit more on the horsepower end, but it’s so much more responsive that it’s like a million horsepower. It’s like an electric motors. It’s like the gas pedal is directly connected to the rear tires. You just press on it more and it spins the tires more. These are so responsive. In my turbo car, I would just floor it and dump the clutch every time I had to get out of it. In these, I have to program myself just to roll into it, because if you just hit it, it will go to the moon immediately. So, I have to slow myself down, rather than waiting for the car to catch up.
FordNXT:How has the reception been for you from the Mustang community?
CD: …The crowd is great. Everywhere we go that we are showing these off, the crowd is so into it, especially because we have two of them. We are both very approachable and everyone will come up and ask questions about them. Our cars are very relatable. The crowd is awesome and there is so much history in motorsports and in general.
Having two Mustang RTR competition cars allows the RTR Motorsports team to gain even more test data that can help improve the cars’ performance.
FordNXT:Would you agree that RTR and the cars translate well between the drifting audience and the traditional Mustang audience?
CD: I think we have the right mix of that. We’ve got a big V8 under the hood, a Ford PerformanceRoush Yates motor that sounds sick. And, everybody loves burnouts and that’s what we are doing. We are just doing it on walls at 80 miles an hour. That helps a lot and the fact that drifting and drag racing have a lot in common with speed and grip and things like that. Mustangs have a huge history in drag racing, so I think the step-over is much easier. It’s easier for a guy that just likes American cars in general to go to a drift event and see a Mustang. Our flair of the drifting style in the cars is just the right amount… We keep the cars simple, yet aggressive looking and let the driving do the talking.
While Chelsea is still adjusting to the new ride, it seems he’s poised for bigger things as he and his new pony become faster friends. Currently he’s number 22 in the Formula Drift points standings with 88 points after two events. Chelsea and the RTR team look to improve their standings on the high-speed track at Road Atlanta this weekend for Round Three: Road to the Championship, so stay tuned.