As it has for the last seven seasons, the ARCA Menards Series has invited champions from each of ARCA’s regional touring series to participate in the annual two-day pre-season open test at Daytona International Speedway. Designed to give developmental drivers an opportunity to make laps at the most legendary stock car track in the world, the program has allowed drivers such as three-time ARCA winner Ty Majeski and fourth-place driver in the 2019 series championship Travis Braden the opportunity to get their first real big track experience.
Carrying on that tradition in 2020, three of the four drivers invited have yet to vote in an election. ARCA Midwest Tour rookie of the year Gabe Sommers is just 16, as is ARCA Menards Series East champion Sam Mayer. Derek Kraus, champion of the ARCA Menards Series West, is the senior citizen of that group having just turned 18 in September.
But the fourth member of the group, ARCA CRA Super Series champion Greg Van Alst, has been racing for as long as the others have been alive.
“I have wanted to race at Daytona for as long as I can remember,” Van Alst said. “My first trip to Daytona I was four. We went to watch the WKA Karting Races. I remember a couple of things from that particular visit. I have a picture that was taken while standing on pit road. I would say from that day forward its always been a dream. Every February when SpeedWeeks roll around I tell myself maybe next year.”
Van Alst is no stranger to the ARCA Menards Series. He has three series starts, back in 2002, with a best finish of 15th at Chicagoland. He’s also no stranger to seeing ARCA cars at Daytona, attending the race as a spectator a decade ago. He’s anxious to get out onto the track and feel that sense of speed for himself.
“I went to the Busch Clash and ARCA race back in 2009 as a spectator,” he said. “I was in complete awe over the speeds. It’s hard to see how fast cars are moving when on TV but you get to witness the speed in person. Can’t wait to feel that from the driver’s seat.”
Van Alst has about a week to finalize preparations for his Daytona debut. Although he hasn’t reached out to anyone just yet, he has a pretty solid “phone a friend” in the pipeline.
“I haven’t really talked to anyone about driving at Daytona,” Van Alst said. “I will most likely reach out to fellow CRA driver Travis Braden at the test or before. I will mostly rely on Andy and his guys. They have experience with guys that don’t have experience and I’m sure will point me in the right direction.”
The two-day open test is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, January 10 and 11 with Sunday, January 12 reserved as a rain date. Live timing & scoring will be available throughout all on-track sessions on ARCARacing.com. The ARCA Road to Daytona program is overseen by 1995 ARCA Menards Series champion Andy Hillenburg and supported by Ilmor, General Tire, Sunoco, Valvoline, Eibach Springs, JRi Shocks, and Tropical Manor Daytona Beach Hotel. Previous participants include three-time 2019 ARCA Menards Series winner Ty Majeski and fourth-place finisher in the final 2019 series standings Travis Braden, both of whom participated in the program in 2014.
(Photo credit Speed51.com/Evan Canfield)