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
“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.”
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 Performance Roush 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.