DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — “Guys like me aren’t supposed to win here,” screamed Greg Van Alst at the start finish line of the Daytona International Speedway. Van Alst got by Jason White in the third turn on the final lap and held off a furious charge from the field behind to score his first career ARCA Menards Series victory in his 32nd start.
“I worked my ass off to get here and we did it!” continued Van Alst. “This is for all the short track racers out there that don’t think you can get to this left.”
Van Alst started off in ARCA in 2001 but it didn’t initially work out. His racing journey goes on a wild path from starting off in cars, to leaving $50 in his bank account after buying a chassis, one day after flipping his previous sprint car.
With blood shot eyes and a concussion, he wizened up. He hopped out of the car. Then, while still recovering from that head injury, he decided to quit. Van Alst started a fencing company. While doing, he wanted to provide better for his family so he picked up a second job.
It all started with a job in Florida. It didn’t pan out. He moved back home to Anderson, Indiana. Van Alst had a neighbor who had a dirt sprint car and he drove a handful of races for him. A Friday night Gas City dirt race changed his life. He flipped the sprint car that he was driving multiple times. He had just got paid on that Friday and on Saturday morning he bought another chassis. At that point, he had $1250 in his checking account, went to the bank, and pulled out $1200 to buy another sprint car frame; leaving him with just $50 for the next two weeks.
He spent the next few days struggling to get that car together. He was determined to not miss a race. He had a concussion, and two blood shot black eyes. Somewhere mid week, the concussion was not allowing him to think clearly. He got frustrated and lost his cool. He then decided he was done racing.
“I remember telling my wife I was done,” he says. “We had a six month old daughter and I realized in that moment that what I was doing was stupid and that my dream of racing in the big leagues was done. I told her I wasn’t going to race again until I could do it right.”
He started a fencing company. Put a post on Craigslist and off he went. Racing was in his rear view mirror now.
He was working a factory job for a medical supply company at night and fencing by day.
“My wife and I struggled to make ends meet, as we had done what many young people do; created debt that we couldn’t pay,” he continued. “I worked 20 hour days, barely having time to come home and see my young daughter and wife. We finally get to a point where I think I can quit my night job and focus on the fence company only. I come home to tell my wife I am turning in my notice, only to have her tell me she’s pregnant.
“So baby #2 is on the way and I continue to work both jobs. We start saving a little money and once our second daughter was born, I quit my factory job. I decided that I wanted to start racing a little again. (The thought of racing never went away, I just realized that I couldn’t afford to do it.) I bought a go-kart to do some racing. I soon realized I was too big to even dream of keeping up with those guys, so I moved into modifieds and then got back into a late model. Then, another set back. Injuries from a wreck at Winchester many years before required neck fusion surgery, which caused me to sit out most of the 2013 season.
“With the exception of the 2013 season, we had a few years of late model racing and won a couple of races, followed by winning the 2014 CRA Sportsman Championship. The next couple of years, I continued to race a little with some rough patches of decisions and racing wasn’t fun again. We started racing with our kids in quarter midgets and racing was fun again! The business was doing well and we were able to spend quality family time racing.
“I decided I wanted to get a super late model. I bought a car and ran a full season as the schedules with the kids racing lined up perfectly. I landed a tire sponsor, CB Fabricating, for the last race of the year and completely destroyed the car in qualifying for the Winchester 400. I thought that was it. I had a chance with a sponsor and bad luck struck us again. Over the winter we decided to build a new car and give it another shot….
“The 2019 season rolled around. We started off with the same bad luck as we had at the end of the year. We were a fast car at our home track and had a shock failure that we couldn’t control. In an up and down year we scraped our way into the championship 8. The next three races, we scratched and clawed ourselves into a position for the final race of the year. We seeded ourselves second but in most peoples eyes we had zero shot of winning. At one point during the championship weekend, we were called “the other guys” over the PA system in a rundown of the championship contenders. That infuriated me inside.
“During the race there were a couple times I had to reach down and drive in a way I had never done before. I put it all on the line. We had a tire issue that many others were fighting with as well and I drove through it. As much as everyone loves sports drama, the last 16 laps of the race had it. I had to beat one other car to win the championship. We had been in front of them most of the race but here we were nose to tail on a restart. The reigning champion, the team to beat, was behind us. Those 16 laps were the hardest 16 laps I had ever driven in my 24 years of racing. I drove in a way I didn’t think I could. I came out on top as champion. 2019 ARCA CRA Super Series Champion! I still get chills when I think of that day.”
It brings him back to 2020. He had plans to do a test at Daytona in an ARCA car.
“I feel like I’m dreaming. I feel like I am a kid at a racetrack for the first time again. The sights, the sounds, the smell; its all different than what our racing is like. My wife, our two daughters, and two sons are there to take in the weekend as well. I cannot describe the feel of the weekend. Words don’t explain this. I started a fence company, not because I wanted to, because I had to. Its the only thing I found that I was good enough that people would pay me to do. My fence company got me here.”
He says that weekend set a fire in him that he hasn’t had since he was a kid. He knew with a second chance at this, if he worked a little harder, a little smarter, then maybe he could make his dream come true of racing at Daytona.
Then came a pandemic. That fire burned too deep to stop this process.
“In the midst of a pandemic, I put my head down and made work happen. While others were letting workers go and laying off employees, I hired. If the phone rang I answered it. I put in early mornings and late nights. All to try and fuel that Daytona dream.
“December 2020. Plans are in place. We are racing at Daytona. I have help from a business owner that I met by doing a fence for him. For the 3rd year CB Fabricating is on board. CB Fabricating and Greg Van Alst will be racing at Daytona! The story will continue to keep going. I will be in my 25th year of driving. I am turning 40 years old this July and feel like a kid waiting for Christmas day.”
Van Alst came back in 2021. Yes, 20 years after starting, he came back. He finished 29th. Last year, he was 22nd. This year, he had a strong No. 35 Chevrolet. A self owned one at that.
A debris caution on Lap 61 bunched the field up. They got back going with 15 to go. White jumped out to the lead and maintained it for the next several laps. Lavar Scott, Van Alst and Jason Kitzmiller ran in tow just waiting to make their move.
Then came Dale Quarterley spinning through the tri-oval with eight laps-to-go. That set up a green-white-checkered finish. White had control of it but even with bigger teams behind Van Alst, he was able to stay in third and make his move on the final lap with two corners to go.
Van Alst held off Connor Mosack, Sean Corr and Jesse Love to the finish.
“There was no way I was going to bring it home without the steering wheel or the trophy and that was it,” Van Alst emotionally said.
In his first start, Frankie Muniz finished 11th.