This year, as many as nine cars at Adams County and I-80 Speedways were built by Chris Vannausdle and his company, High Side Chassis.
Chris and his wife, Dawn, run the company that builds cages for sports compact and front-wheel drive race cars. While many of the cars he built found success this year, none were more successful than the one he drove himself.
Chris won the Brandon Towing and Recover Compacts championship at NASCAR-sanctioned Adams County, a half-mile dirt oval track in Corning, Iowa. He also won the sport compact title at I-80, a semi-banked dirt oval in Greenwood, Nebraska. Vannausdle had been racing for 29 years and these were the first two championships he had ever won.
"We knew coming in us and about of three or four others would be the top cars and we just had the perfect season," he said.
Chris said on any given weekend he would be racing against six or seven cars built by his company, and there were four cars that came right out of his race shop. One of those belonged to his son, Bryan Vannausdle, who won a track championship himself at Stuart International Speedway in Stuart, Iowa, and finished fifth at Adams County and sixth at I-80.
"Every track that me and my dad raced on we kind of took clean sweeps," Bryan said.
Chris began going to races at Adams County, which is about 15 minutes from his home, when he was four years old, thanks to his dad.
"I don’t know much more than going to the races on Saturday night," he said. "I remember dad and I coming home on a Saturday before we’d head to the races and he’d always go fishtailing around the road and stuff and I loved it. I loved the loud engines. I loved the ‘out of control but in control’. I loved the competition."
While helping someone in the pits when he was about 17, Chris said a friend of his made the impulsive decision to buy a car and tasked Chris with driving it.
"And from then on there was nothing more I wanted to do than that," he said. "Anything with motors I’ve always been all about it."
Even after so many years racing, though, Chris was still chasing that elusive championship. His title at Adams County was pretty much locked up by championship night, but the points lead at I-80 was much closer.
"I’ve been there four years ago where I was really close in points and I did get nervous, looked the car over, maybe rethought things too many times," he said. "And I guess when I’m 48 years old you look at things different and you think, ‘Well, if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen.’
"Until the checkered flag flew and I realized maybe there’s a little more stress there than you realize because I took a deep breath and just said, ‘Wow.’"
Being able to celebrate a championship was even more special because Chris’s four kids were there to celebrate with him.
"The thing I loved most about it all was my kids saying congratulations," he said. "All my kids were there that night. My mom was there, my wife. And for my kids to say, ‘Dad, you finally did it,’ meant a lot."
Chris’s other son, Tyler Housley also raced early this season.
Watching Chris is what got Bryan into the sport as well. He would help his dad before getting behind the wheel himself for a first full season in 2016 when he was 26.
The two now build their cars together and race against one another on the track. While they enjoy working together in the shop, they’re still very competitive once the green flag flies.
"There’s some stuff that we don’t tell each other. We don’t want to give each other an extra advantage… If I leave a lane open for my dad he’ll go right around it. He told me before one race, ‘If I’ve got to dump ya, I’m going to dump ya.’ And I said to him ‘I’m going to do the same thing right back. I’ll dump you too,’" Bryan said with a laugh.
"We never have done it in a race. We might take away each other’s lines just to keep them behind us but otherwise we never bang or destroy the cars because we both know we’ve got to work on the cars the next week."
This year was a career year for both Vannausdles. The two are currently first and second in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Division V national points standings. Bryan has three more races he’ll compete in this year, but Chris said his season is done because there are no tracks within a day’s drive that run his car on dirt. He’ll instead have to wait and watch the standings every week.
With nine wins and 19 top fives, Chris currently leads Bryan by 68 points, and is 78 points above third. All of the top six in the Division V standings drive at either Adams County or I-80.
Now that Chris is a track champion, he’s already had his competitors talking to him about coming for his title. He and his wife had actually been talking about buying a camper and slowing down a bit, but the peer pressure may convince him to come back. He’s going to take a wait-and-see approach.
He’ll still be building cages for other drivers though, and his son is hoping the older Vannausdle returns to repeat a bit of the 2020 magic.
"Hopefully we’ll do it again next year," Bryan said.