Most of us who drive adapted vans haven’t thought of taking them out on the racetrack. But that’s probably just because we haven’t met Chris Karson.
“I thought to myself, if I’m going to be escorted around in a wheelchair van, it’s going to be the coolest van around,” says Karson, 40, of Portage, Ind. After sustaining a C4-5 spinal cord injury in an auto accident in 1989, Karson was heading home from a rehab appointment when he spotted a 1972 Chevy van sitting in a used-car lot. It was love at first sight. “Before my injury I was always tinkering on ’60s and ’70s hot rods. The passion was rooted deep,” he says. “The old van was not pretty, but it was a gem in my eyes.”
With the help of family, friends and a few supportive businesses, Karson began what would become a 20-year process of transforming the van from worn-out beater, to hot rod, to full-blown racecar.
He began simply, by installing a swivel seat on the passenger side so that he could transfer on his own. “In the early ’90s we drove the van all over the place,” he says. “The uniqueness of the van became an icebreaker for conversations with people who were at first uncomfortable talking with a person with a disability.”
A few more metamorphoses later, the van today is a 1,000-horsepower “monster” able to conquer a quarter-mile in under 10 seconds. Karson and his van are a common fixture at racetracks and car shows throughout the Midwest. “The spectators are in awe of what it has become,” he says. Once again a licensed driver, Karson has set as his next goal fitting the van with hand controls. “Prior to modifying the van, I was told by doctors that I would never drive again.”
To find out more about Karson and his van, go to www.karsonracing.com.