By: Kyle Souza / Photo: Tom Morris/My Race News
Bobby Santos and New Hampshire Motor Speedway seem to be the perfect match.
After 12 months of not making a start on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Santos returned to competition in the Musket 200 presented by Whelen last weekend at NHMS and parked his No. 63 ThinkLite Chevrolet in Victory Lane.
Santos hasn’t been out of the seat in 2020 — competing in Sprint Cars and Midgets across the country — including a victory in the prestigious Little 500 just one week prior. But his tenure on the Whelen Modified Tour dwindled a bit the last few years, as he continues to build a family and race elsewhere. But, when he rolls into NHMS, it doesn’t matter whether he’s been on the Whelen Modified Tour lately or not.
He finds a way to win. Santos now has six victories in 28 starts there, including two in the prestigious Musket extra-distance event.
His six wins leads all active drivers, and has him tied for third in the list of all-time drivers at the ‘Magic Mile’. Only seven-time champion Mike Stefanik (8) and Tony Hirschman (7) have more. Santos’ most recent win tied him with Reggie Ruggerio.
“This place has been good to me, I just love coming here,” Santos said. “Good cars and good people around me giving me what I need and making the right adjustments. It’s about getting a feel that I like in the race car so I can race it. I want to be comfortable so I can maneuver and put ourselves in position. It’s also understanding that you have to be in the first couple of spots at the end of the race. If you are third, fourth, fifth on back, it becomes really hard to get to the front without doing anything drastic.”
New Hampshire’s style of racing includes drafting similar to what NASCAR Cup Series fans might see at Daytona and Talladega, but on a much smaller level. There are no large packs three and four-wide, but instead, a slight bump draft, or group or two cars chasing one, makes a difference.
It’s a major wild card of a race with the potential to be collected in a wreck high.
Saturday, Santos wasn’t much of a factor for the lead early, but was riding comfortably inside the top-10. He led his first lap on 169 of 200, and would lead a total of 24 before it was done — including the final one. It was in typical Santos fashion that he doesn’t show up to the front dance until it matters most.
In his six wins, Santos hasn’t led a lap before the 31 laps to go mark in any race. In fact, in all but one of his victories, Santos didn’t lead until there was under 10 laps to go.
He is always there when the big money is on the line, and this time, it earned him a $20,000 prize in the biggest paying Whelen Modified Tour race of the year.
“It was a long race, just trying to bide our time and put ourselves in position to be there at the end,” Santos said. “We just pushed as hard as we could.”
Santos swapped the lead back and forth with 2018 Whelen Modified Tour champion Justin Bonsignore countless times in the final laps.
His first four victories at NHMS were with Tinio Motorsports, but after they decided to step away, the last two have come with Dave Sapienza as his car owner. Sapienza, a competitor on the tour himself, tabbed Santos to drive his car in 2019 after Sapienza was injured in a tour race at Wall Stadium Speedway. Santos was involved in a wreck, earning a DNF in July of last year, but won the September Musket 250.
This year, he made it back-to-back. In those two Musket races only, he’s collected over $40,000 in winning prizes.
Sapienza also competed in the race on Saturday, but finished outside the top-10 a few laps down.
“I’ve been staying busy, racing my sprint cars and midgets, but at the end of the day it comes down to Dave Sapienza and his team,” Santos said. Tommy Grasso (crew chief) works so hard on the cars and prepares them so well. The team was so impressive this weekend — showing up with two cars and the guys bouncing back and forth. It was impressive the way they worked together and did what they could to accommodate me as the outsider and also understanding that it’s Dave’s team and giving him what he needs. It’s just an honor to be able to drive their car.”
If you look back at the history of the Whelen Modified Tour at NHMS, you can now argue that Santos might go down as one of the best drivers to ever run the track in a modified. The eight wins Stefanik has seems like a small number with Santos’ career still going full steam ahead.