The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

71° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcat roars to NASCAR win

    Van Knill, a communications junior currently races in the NASCAR Lucas Oil Super Late Model Series, which is one step below the NASCAR circut. He won his first race recently, and also leads the point standings in the Super Late Model Series. He got his start in racing at an early age, and set a world record for in the Quarter Midget Races in Pomona, Calif., in 1998. (photo by chris coduto/arizona daily wildcat)
    Van Knill, a communications junior currently races in the NASCAR Lucas Oil Super Late Model Series, which is one step below the NASCAR circut. He won his first race recently, and also leads the point standings in the Super Late Model Series. He got his start in racing at an early age, and set a world record for in the Quarter Midget Races in Pomona, Calif., in 1998. (photo by chris coduto/arizona daily wildcat)

    Competing at speeds of more than 200 mph may be commonplace for a NASCAR racer, but for one UA student, it was a whole new experience.

    Van Knill, a communications junior, not only won the 25-mile race at the Los Angeles area Irwindale Raceway, but he came in in first place for each of the 50 laps and was the fastest car in the qualifying runs.

    “”The car was on rails that night,”” Knill said. “”We definitely dominated that weekend.””

    Three races into this season, Knill has earned his first ever NASCAR win, a second-place finish in a race lost by fractions of a second, and a fifth-place finish.

    Knill also sits in first place in the point standings in the NASCAR Lucas Oil Super Late Model Series, the minor league baseball equivalent of NASCAR.

    “”We’ve never won a big championship before, but we’re hoping this year’s going to be the year,”” Knill said.

    As well as being an up-and-coming racecar driver, Knill doubles as a full-time student.

    “”Because of racing, I have to skip class a lot,”” Knill said. “”But that just means I have to work twice as hard as most students.””

    Communication is important in racing, and studying communications in the classroom has improved Knill’s success on the track, he said.

    “”It’s helped me be able to better communicate what I’m feeling in the car going around the track to my crew chief, which helps us better set up the car to win races,”” Knill said.

    School holds priority over racing, but he always wanted to be on the racetrack, said Robert Knill, Van’s father.

    Robert is also Knill’s spotter, who monitors how the race is going and communicates to the racer via radio about things to watch out for.

    “”I was there when he was an infant,”” Robert said. “”His mom and I would take him to races and he would sit on my lap, and he started to think that was something he wanted to do.””

    At one particular dirt-track race in Phoenix, Knill asked, just as he had asked many times before, if he could be a racecar driver, and his family ended up going home with a racecar, said Robert, who runs Knill Motorsports, the family racing business.

    Since that time, Knill has been racing all over the nation in quarter midgets, midgets and for the last three years, racing stock cars.

    A “”midget”” racecar is a small open-wheel racecar, and a quarter midget is the same, but a quarter of the size.

    At 12 years old, Knill set a world record for the fastest lap ever in a Honda-powered quarter midget with a time of 6.02 seconds on a one-twentieth mile track.

    Racing is not only something that has become a passion for Knill, but it seems to run in the family.

    “”My Dad and my grandfather both raced Indy cars, and my grandfather raced in the Indy 500 in the ’30s,”” Knill said. “”My family supports everything, they’ve always been 100 percent behind me in everything I’ve wanted to do.””

    But just because he has family support, racing remains a dangerous sport, a fact not forgotten by Knill’s parents.

    “”It scares the hell out of me,”” Robert said. “”I have learned that he is a really good driver, and he can handle the car and do things that most people can’t do. It’s just the other guy that does stupid things that you just can’t plan on.””

    While his family supports him in his racing pursuits, getting his friends interested in racing has proven to be difficult, Knill said.

    “”My friends said they’d rather watch golf or tennis than NASCAR,”” Knill said.

    Knill said he hopes that he is so successful at racing that he can make it a career and never have to get a normal job.

    “”It’s definitely one of the most exciting and adrenaline-enriched experiences anyone could have,”” Knill said. “”I can’t even compare it to anything else.””

    With his talent, Knill has the potential be very successful behind the wheel, but also outside the car, said Dave Jackson, owner of Jackson Chassis, the supplier of racing chassis for NASCAR’s Southwest tour late-model series.

    “”He represents himself very well with his demeanor and attitude, and that’s very important,”” said Jackson, who is also Knill’s crew chief. “”You can see it in the way he handles himself, the way he talks to other drivers and people in general.””

    If Knill’s success continues, the next step for him will be to either compete in NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series or Busch Series, and then in the Major Leagues of stock car racing, The Nextel Cup.

    Along with aspirations of someday competing at the highest levels of NASCAR, Knill said he wants to help future racers have access to the same opportunities he has had.

    “”I have been a NASCAR fan all my life,”” Knill said. “”A lot of people have helped my career out, and someday I’d like to give back to up-and-coming kids.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search