Rider of the Van
Sant Racing Pro Mod Suzuki
Bruce Van Sant has been racing for 13 years, and it all kicked off with the most powerful of all bikes (well, not really), a Yamaha RD350. Back then, it was racing in the street category at Eddyville Dragway.
He got his bug watching his brothers race their cars there... and after hooking up with an older friend who raced a two-stroke bike of his own, Rusty Kramer. It started somewhere about sixth grade for Bruce... he was not big into traditional sports, and drag racing gave him a sense of involvement he really liked.
He started simply hanging out with Rusty, and eventually he became a crew person. Shortly thereafter, Rusty built a "lay-down" bike, and the two set out on the road hitting various events here and there together.
With Rusty's help... Bruce eventually build his own bike. Eventually, he set a few records in the IDBA Super Eliminator category, and Bruce felt that he had reached a closing chapter for that old bike. He built a traditional engined Suzuki, and hit the local bracket racing and super comp tour. Like all racers, that bike eventually seemed to not fill his need for speed, and he set his sights on a "big tire" combination of some kind for the future.
"I wanted to go to a bigger tire, and something built to handle faster speeds, because we were starting to push it too much" said Van Sant. "About that same time, the Pro Mod class really got going, and it looked like where I wanted to be."
He had no immediate plans on hitting the tour... however in the future that is where he saw himself. His new bike was built as a "Pro Mod replica" as the result.
"Terry Cruz was a local racer who raced Pro Mod, so I always watched what he was doing and learned some from him."
After bracket racing for a season on NHRAs divisional tour Bruce decided it was time to play with nitrous a bit... but still did not have any desires to hit Pro Mod just yet.
"That [using nitrous] took about two weekends of playing around and I decided it was time to go to the Prostar event in Indy and enter Pro Mod for my first time."
That's where the fever started... and the rest is history. Van Sant ran Pro Mod here and there in 1998, and split the 1999 season between two racing series.
"We were not really chasing points, we were simply getting our feet wet before we hit the tour" explained Van Sant.
Well... getting his feet wet, he managed to finish off that season #3 in IDBA Championship points, and #12 in AMA/Prostar.
MK: Bruce, over the past 13 years... what kept you going with it?
VAN SANT: It was the challenge of always trying to get the most out of what we had. Racing that old 350, we ran 11.0-seconds and set a record. With that small tire Suzuki, we had a real mild combination that ran thousands of runs without hurting a thing. Everybody around us told us that for what we had, it ran really well.
With the Pro Mod, its the same story. I feel we have much less power then most of the guys out there. We manage to keep up really well, and make efficient use of what weve got.
Its all about the time slip for me If I run a hundredth faster then last time it makes me smile. Its the challenge of putting up a better number all of the time.
MK: Does your wife get involved with your racing?
Van Sant: She comes when she can, but shes a mom first and that does not always allow it. Weve been married ten years and shes always supported me in every way possible.
Before we were married, my shop was just getting started. There was an article on Dave Schultz Pro Stocker in Cycle World, and I laid it down in front of her and told her this is what I wanted to do someday. I thought that was sufficient warning for her even though she probably did not believe me.
In the early years she was there with me, working on the bike and working the starter when I was in the burnout box. When travel got farther from home, and when the kids came, she had to pull back somewhat. The racing itself is not her thing exactly I think she likes hanging out and making friends more. Shes said she would never have gotten invovled if it were not for my love of it.
MK: You are currently in the top four spots in points behind names like Miceli and Vose. How do you think they feel about your "farm built" terror?
Van Sant: I'm not sure how they feel but I feel great. I think the reason for our doing well, is because weve taken a very calculated progression through the years. We work on our combination and refine it pass after pass. A lot of the others tend to make huge changes... trying to set the world on fire. We just continue to work for progress.
I have parts laying around that would make us go faster but I do things slow and right.
When we ran 7.50s, we came back next round looking for a 7.40-something. Same said at each tenth along the way. When we meet our goals, we set another realistic one... and continue forward.
I've grown to respect Billy a great deal, and I hope he has done the same with me. It seemed he did not really care for me much at first, because I was not his customer. We get along really good now, and he knows better than anybody what makes a bike work. Ive earned my lumps and he knows it.
I have been next to him a bunch of times, and I cant seem to beat him. I normally tree him, but something weird always seems to happen to the bike during the run... he must have some kind of curse over me.
MK: In ten words or less what is Bruce Van Sant about?
Van Sant: I guess the easiest way to explain it, would be to say simply that priorities are first. I put God first and above all else. My family is second, and my business and racing are close after that. Racing is not my drive, God and my family are.
MK: What do you do for fun when you are not racing?
Van Sant: I work to go racing, and when I am not I spend time with my family.
MK: What are your tastes in food and music?
Van Sant: When it comes to food, I like trying new things, and I like eating at fancy restaurants with my wife.
Theres always something different on for music as well. I bounce between contemporary Christian music, and alternative and classic rock everything except country.
MK: Has there been a mentor in your life?
Van Sant: Rusty [Kramer] has been the one person I have really looked up to. Hes taught me a lot of things about life, and when I was younger sports was not my thing. I dove head first into motorcycles, and he gave me the encouragement to excel.
MK: Who have been the racers that you've tried to model yourself after?
Van Sant: Guys like Jim Head, Warren Johnson and Dave Schultz, people who are doing their own program and are not afraid to try new things. Those people are daring enough to not follow like sheep.
MK: Have you ever met any of them?
Van Sant: I've met Dave [Schultz] at trade shows a few times, but I have never really spent any time with him. The others, I've only seen from a distance.
MK: In ten years, what will you be doing in racing?
Van Sant: I set a ten year goal in 1990 to be racing Pro Stock. Pro Mod side tracked me, and I love it so I dont feel that I failed in reaching my goal but in the long term, that will be the route I will eventually go.
MK: Do you see your either of your sons replacing you in 15 years?
Van Sant: I would not rule it out... and I would have to predict Chase would be the one hes pretty much a dare devil.
MK: How would your wife feel if either of your boys decided to ride a dragbike like dad?
Van Sant: She just rolls her eyes anytime I talk like that. We've got lots of years to go before that can happen, so we'll cross that bridge when it's time. I am sure she'll be supportive, but protective like any mom should be.
MK: What has been the high point of your racing career thus far?
Van Sant: Being up against Vose in the final round, in St. Louis, two years ago was the best. Though I did not win, I knew that I was racing the best the sport had to offer and that I was ready for it. A bunch of our friends were all there as well, it was simply great.
MK: What was the low point of your career?
Van Sant: Losing the final round of the E.T. Bracket Championships in 1994. Not go to into it, it was simply a bad deal, and it was handled terribly.
MK: Since you've raced Pro Mod, what has been the biggest product advancement in your program?
Van Sant: Without a doubt... the Schnitz Progressive Controller, and right there with it is the knowledge and great product that Nitrous Express has given us. They've given us a point in the right direction!
MK: Tell us about your bike?
Van Sant: The chassis was built in our shop. Everything from the bearing support to the aluminum fuel tank and wheel tub was done in house. The only parts we went outside to get, would be the front end, wheels and body.
The engine is unlike any other in the class, because we use an 89 GSX-R1100 cylinder head atop a Suzuki GS engine. It pushes 1394cc, using JE Pistons, HMP crankshaft and VHR billet trans prepared by Fast By Gast.
It was built in house, though S&K did some machine work, and Jerry Berreth ported the cylinder head. Jerrys a guy who has done quite a bit of road racing cylinder heads but these dayss he is semi-retired.
MK: What is Van Sant Enterprises?
Van Sant: It is basically a three part company. The racing business focuses on used parts sales and were making a few little goodies of our own like the cam chain guide.
The second part is fabricating equipment sales, which we supply machinery to race car builders. The big guys in the 4 wheel industry, like McKinney, Gambler, Undercover Chassis, Horton, and others all buy tubing notchers and benders from us.
The third part is a body and custom paint shop. I dont do that much myself anymore though I still manage to get into the custom paintwork.
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