This year’s NHRA Rookie of the Year is Chase Van Sant, who rides a Suzuki for White Alligator Racing (WAR) in the 2023 Camping World Drag Racing Series. Unfortunately, Van Sant had to miss the final three races of the year after an accident during the Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in mid-October, injuring his knee and having to contend with skin graft surgery.
Every year NHRA invites its national media to decide who was the highest performing newcomer in its professional series, which moves to become the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series when the straight-line community reconvenes for the 55th annual Gatornationals next March on the Gainesville Raceway dragstrip. Last year’s rookie winner was Camrie Caruso, who went on to secure her first Pro Stock victory this season in the Arizona NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
Van Sant qualified for every race he entered and earned four semifinal appearances to go with four quarterfinal results, including reaching the penultimate round on his debut at the 2023 Gatornationals. By reaching the semifinal rounds during the “regular” season that closed during the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals, Van Sant was eligible to compete in this year’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge. Despite not racing at Las Vegas and in the Pomona finale, Van Sant finished ninth in the cumulative points after a 15-race campaign.
‘The 2023 season was a great rookie year for us,” Van Sant acknowledged. “We went to four semifinals this season and I’m really proud of the work we did. I think we’re just getting started. I’d like to thank my family for getting me into racing and the whole White Alligator Racing team for giving me the opportunity.” Van Sant was teammate to John Hall for this season; team owner and 2016 Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Jerry Savoie subbed for his rider in the last two races of the year.
Van Sant had four competitors for his Rookie of the Year honors: Top Fuel driver Dan Mercer, who qualified for seven national events, earning a round win over 2023 Top Fuel champion Doug Kalitta in Norwalk, together with Pro Stock competitors David Cuadra, Eric Latino and Jerry Tucker.
Cuadra made his Pro Stock debut during the Four-Wide Charlotte race where he was in a four-wide “Cuadra Quad” against his father Fernando and brothers Fernando Jr. and Cristian; Latino, from Port Perry, Ontario, Canada made his debut in Norwalk and qualified for six National events; Tucker qualified for all 2023 Pro Stock contests, advancing to a single semifinal and four quarterfinal rounds. Tucker picked up round wins over Elite teammates Erica Enders, Bo Butner III and Troy Coughlin Jr.