He likes to say he's the most "hillbilly" competitive Ultra4 racer out there but don't let that fool you, Derek West is a force to be reckoned with in Ultra4 racing. While West is from Missouri, he mainly dons the hillbilly term due to his get it done attitude and humble racing budget - and he'll be the first to tell you he's worked hard to be where he's at and doesn't take anything for granted, including his ability to be competing in one of the most challenging races in the world.
Derek started off-roading as a teen, becoming involved with local Jeep clubs. From there friend and current co-driver, Jason Henne, got him into racing ATVs. After a few years of that Derek moved into racing Jeeps, as they provided much more safety and protection then a four-wheeler. Eventually friends encouraged Derek to get involved in a new series called Ultra4, so Derek showed up at the 2008 race in Hot Springs, Arkansas. "From there it was about what can we do to modify the vehicle, when's the next race...from that point it switched from just a hobby to something else."
An average day begins and ends with race-related stuff. To start the day off, Derek meets his co-driver Jason Henne for an early morning 5am Crossfit class. Finding that Crossfit provides great physical and mental training for the rigors of tough Ultra4 races such as King of The Hammers, Derek has become dedicated to training.
In class is yet another Jason, the one who introduced Derek to Crossfit and that Derek in turn introduced to Ultra4 (Jason will be racing KOH for the first time this year). (Photo below: Derek, Jason, Jason Henne co-driver, classmate)
After racing, it's back home to clean up and get in some early-morning emails before heading off to work. Daughter London, 7, gets up early to spend some time with her dad. With Derek basically holding down two full time jobs, a racer and a paying gig, his schedule is tight but Derek finds time to spend with family...even if it's a bowl of cereal and piano playing in the early morning hours with London.
Before work is another family stop, to visit his grandpa, Tanner, who is recovering from heart issues and ready to get out of the hospital. Tanner, a WWII vet who drove a tank at Normandy, earned a living driving trucks. It only takes a conversation with Grandpa to see how much he loves driving, maybe some of that same love rubbed off on Derek - besides driving, Derek and his grandpa share the same friendly demeanor.
Derek's main "day" job is running his own solar power business. During slower winter months, Derek fills in by doing some electrical work at Sho-Me Speed. A shop run by friend Wes, Sho-Me Speed first began specializing in tuning LS engines and is now becoming one of the go-to off-road tuners and engine builders in the Midwest.
It just so happens that Derek's car, #4420, parks in one corner of Sho-Me Speed making it very convenient to get in some "work" after work - although Derek says that the weekends are when real progress is made. Friends and team come in to volunteer long Saturday's and Sunday's getting whatever is needed on the car done.
Leading up to King of The Hammers, Derek and team tore apart the entire car - removing drivetrain as well as many other components. Working on a budget, they check and test parts that may be reused in-between each race - before a race as major as King of The Hammers more than normal is replaced. "Preparation is never done," says Derek, working through a list from major to minor and honing things in until it's time to put the pedal to the medal.
On this particular day it's crew chief "Big T" and Travis who have come to help. Taking apart the brakes to inspect each piston as well as fitting the new Nitto Trail Grapplers on and some other tasks.
Back at home that night, Derek returns to answering emails and grabbing a bite along with Big T, while wife, Ashley, shows some pictures of Derek's earliest off-roading and competing days.
"From the beginning, it was more than just something I do once in awhile - it was a passion," says Derek. It isn't easy, but he wouldn't want to be doing anything else.
Learn more about Derek at Nitto Racing.
Read A Day In The Life Of: Jason Scherer or Nick Nelson. Keep up with Derek's latest news on his Facebook page.