Van Alst, 42, suffered a fractured vertebra in his back in a vicious wreck last October in the NASCAR Truck race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
It was a harrowing end to what had been a breakout season for the longtime short track veteran.
Van Alst had kicked off 2023 in style with a thrilling victory in the ARCA Menards Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway, using a last lap pass to earn his first career win in 32 starts.
Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images
Greg Van Alst, Young’s Motorsports, CB Fabricating Chevrolet Silverado
Van Alst went on to make his first starts in NASCAR’s Xfinity and Truck series later in the year and was running a truck with Young’s Motorsports when the Talladega accident sidelined him for the remainder of the year.
There was little doubt, however, he would return when ready.
“I was questioning things in the hospital until I went home and talked to my wife (Christi) and she said, ‘That’s who you are. It’s what we do. I’m not going to tell you to quit.’ So, by Sunday evening after the wreck I was ready to start the path back,” Van Alst told Motorsport.com.
“The guys at Young’s are a really good group. I really feel like if we hadn’t had the accident at Talladega, I think we would have had the opportunity to run well at Miami and Phoenix. I feel like we were heading in the right direction but weren’t quite there yet.”
After a more than 12-week recovery period, Van Alst was cleared by his doctors to return to competition.
The first big step is participating in this weekend’s preseason ARCA test at Daytona, the precursor to what he hopes will be a repeat victory in the ARCA season opener.
Van Alst returns to Daytona looking to run another full-time season in ARCA and he also has brought a teammate for the first time, 23-year-old fellow Midwest racing standout Isaac Johnson.
While he still would entertain opportunities to run in Xfinity or Trucks, Van Alst appears focused on remaining in ARCA, both to earn more wins but also to help build his fledgling Greg Van Alst Motorsports organization.
“We’re trying to build a program that will pay for itself,” he said. “We pay for this all out of pocket. We’re different but also similar to everybody else in the garage. There are teams here that do this for a living. We don’t.
“It’s definitely way more than a hobby. But we do it on the level where we’re working on stuff after work, on the weekends, things like that. Bringing Isaac into the program, I now have two full-time guys in the shop.
“It’s going to be a challenge. Running one car is hard enough. But now having full-time people in the race shop, we’ve taken another big step.”
Returning to the site of his ARCA triumph
Returning to Daytona this weekend, Van Alst admitted feeling “nervous,” but not because of his recent accident.
Winning in racing always comes with expectations, regardless of the level of competition.
“It’s crazy coming back here knowing we won here,” he said. “It’s definitely a different feeling. I’m almost nervous and I’ve never been nervous. I’ve been excited before but now there’s like an expectation that we’re capable of winning here.
“Like I said last year, guys like me aren’t supposed to be able to do this, right? Now, maybe I’m supposed to do this. If I don’t do it again, they’ll say, ‘Awe, that was just a fluke.’ I’m just a little nervous because since I have won, I want to do it again.
“I feel like now I have something I have to back up.”