Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Chase Van Sant, a top contender for the annual NHRA Rookie of the Year award, underwent skin-graft surgery Oct. 19 on an injured knee and will miss the final two events of the season.
Van Sant, rider of the Trick Tools/White Alligator Racing Suzuki, was injured in the opening qualifying session of the Texas NHRA FallNationals when his left knee made contact with the racing surface in the shutdown area at Texas Motorplex as he attempted to keep his motorcycle from veering right into the guardwall. Pro Stock Motorcycles have a very limited steering input from turning the front tires and rely heavily on the rider shifting his or her weight to steer them.
“I actually had brushed the guardwall in Charlotte [at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals],” said Van Sant, “so, when the bike made a move left to right in Dallas before I shut the throttle, I was already standing on that left foot peg and trying to make it go left and it wasn't turning, which is why it looked like such a drastic move because it was like, 'Man, I know this game. I've been down this road.'
“Sometimes the bike won't lean at all. It just stays straight up and it wants to go right, and it's like that's the feeling I had from the 1,000-foot mark until the finish line. What really happened was there was a pretty big bump, so that's why I was hanging off the side of it, I hit the bump and my knee just basically hit the ground. My knee got knocked back up, and it picked my butt out of the seat. I didn't know I was hurt bad. When I looked down, like you can see in the video, I could see my kneecap and tendons, and I knew it was bad.”
Van Sant went to a local hospital where he was treated and was back at the track Saturday, then flew home to Iowa to seek further treatment.
Van Sant was fifth in points at the time, coming off of semifinal finishes at the two preceding events in Charlotte and St. Louis, and had been impressive in a season dominated by another new face, Gaiger Herrera, who is not eligible for rookie of the year honors after running six events last season. Van Sant’s chief competitor for NHRA Rookie of the Year is Pro Stock racer Jerry Tucker.
Van Sant has qualified at all 12 Pro Stock Motorcycle events this year, has been to four semifinals, and owns a 12-12 win-loss record with wins against highly regarded veterans like Matt and Angie Smith, Hector Arana Jr., Steve Johnson, and Joey Gladstone, and had qualified his Tim Kulungian-tuned bike in the top five at the last four events prior to the FallNationals.
"I think up until up until Dallas, and especially in the Countdown, we were making some good strides,” Van Sant said. “We'd been to two semi's in a row and every race since Indy we've qualified fifth or better. We were really, really starting to click, and I was so looking forward to Vegas. It's my favorite track and where I got my license last year. We did pretty good at altitude in Denver, a semifinal finish at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals, and thought we might have a shot at our first win in Vegas.
"I think the big difference was that Tim found some power,” he said. “If you look at our 60-foot numbers, they were just steadily dropping every race, down to the point in St. Louis, where we were actually out-60-foot Gaige in several runs. It was one of those things where we just kept working at the 60 foot, and I tried to do everything the same and leave it up to Tim to tweak and change it.”
Van Sant expects to be at both the Las Vegas and Pomona events and hopes to hobble on stage at the awards ceremony to accept the possible award, though he’s not thinking that far.
“Hopefully, I’ll be in Vegas in Pomona, but I'll have to be in an immobilizer for my knee,” he said. “I won’t be able to bend it for three or four weeks after surgery, but I'm hoping to at least be there and hang out.”