It's Wednesday again. Time to roll the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage and dust it off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...
WHAT BOBBY SANTOS did at Stafford Motor Speedway last weekend was truly nothing short of amazing.
In just his second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race of the season, Santos – the 2010 Tour champion – won the pole for the TSI Harley-Davidson 125, led a race-high 117 laps and then finished second after Doug Coby passed him for the win on fresher tires.
Santos only other start this season with the part-time team came in the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson International Speedway in April, an otherwise unimpressive outing that ended prematurely in a multi-car accident in Turn 1.
For a team that doesn't even know race-to-race which events it will even enter as it relies on part-time help at the shop, crew members with varied work schedules and a lack of experience that the championship contenders all boast over decades on the Whelen Modified Tour, just qualifying in the Top-10 could be seen as a victory of sorts. Santos, whose driving talent has never, ever been called into question, has elevated Tinio Racing in a big way.
And he's done it in a hurry.
“After Thompson, we pretty much looked at the schedule and shot for (the TSI Harley-Davidson 125). We probably would have made it to the (Spring Sizzler at Stafford) if we didn't get caught up in a crash the first race. After that, we just decided this was the best race for us because it's closest to home for all of the guys. It made the most sense to come to.
“Other than that, we'll probably go talk about it and go from there.”
Santos' desire to win is not tempered by his current situation. After two years in the Bob Garbarino-owned Mystic Missile, where he won the 2010 title and amassed five wins and seven poles in 30 starts, Santos resume speaks for itself. He's also won USAC titles driving open-wheeled Sprints and Midgets in the midwest, and made a few NASCAR Nationwide Series starts.
When he shows up to the racetrack, he shows up to compete – not simply turn laps at speed.
When I ran into him just outside of Victory Lane at Stafford, he and I just looked at each other for a moment without saying a word. I broke the awkward silence by offering one word: “Bummer.”
“I'm glad somebody will say it,” Santos said. “Everybody else came up to me and congratulated me or told me what a good job I did. But I wanted to win that race.”
And that sums up where Santos' head – and heart – are in this racing game.
“I'm happy. Overall, I'm very happy,” Santos said. “It's just that there's nothing worse than leading the race and getting beat. Can't take nothing away from (Coby) – Doug did it clean, he did it the right way. He did a good job.”
The reflection on the race that got away invariably led to second-guessing about pit strategy. Santos was the only driver to finish in the Top-6 who did not pit at some point for right side tires. With his car handling the way it was, he felt there never was a decision to be made.
“I wouldn't change anything we did,” Santos said. “The guys did a good job. We made the right decision not to pit, but we just got beat.
“Just based off the last two years, I didn't think someone would win this race pitting. Doug proved it wrong, and (third-place Ron Silk) pitted, too, so I guess it wasn't a bad strategy. I mean, it could go either way. The yellows fell right for Doug. They had a good car, and he did a good job.”
So, too, did Santos. He laid claim to the fact that when the No. 44 does show up for a Whelen Modified Tour start, it will do so with the intention of competing for victories.
IT'S STRANGE TO think of anywhere in the southeastern corner of the United States as “Modified Country,” especially in North Carolina and not all that far from the hub of stock car racing in Charlotte, but Bowman Gray Stadium certainly qualifies.
Brought to light a few years ago on the History Channel reality series “Madhouse” that focused on the weekly Modified wars there between the Myers, Millers, Browns and Flemings, Bowman Gray is a short-track racing jewel. More importantly, it's the only Modified jewel in the country that isn't located in the northeast.
This weekend, though, Bowman Gray offers up some room to the K&N Pro Series East. The series made its inaugural visit to the track last summer, on a sweltering July weekend that saw Matt DiBenedetto take the checkered flag.
Corey LaJoie finished second in that rough-and-tumble race so befitting Bowman Gray's reputation, and on a track that seems to suit the third-generation racer, LaJoie has to be one of the pre-race favorites this time around, too.
“We’re actually bringing back a completely different car this year,” LaJoie said of Saturday's Hall of Fame 150. “We built a brand new car with a Billy Hess chassis and a composite body to race all the short tracks, so we’re kind of bringing a new gun to the fight. I don’t think we’d bring it if we thought it wouldn’t be better.”
LaJoie still seeks that elusive first career K&N win. Touted as one of NASCAR's “Next 9” – drivers under the age of 21 competing in one of the sanctioning body's development series – he has three career-runner up finishes.
His run at Bowman Gray last season was his first career runner-up finish.
“We’ve got things in place, we just haven’t had everything in place yet to get the 'W,' but we’re doing everything in our power,” LaJoie said. “One of these days all the ducks will be in a row and we can get to Victory Lane.”
WHEN ALL IS said and done on his racing career – a couple of decades from now at the earliest – is there going to have been anybody better at Thunder Road International Speedbowl than Nick Sweet?
The Barre, Vt., driver won the inaugural round of the new Vermont State Championship Series, taking the Memorial Day Classic 100 at Thunder Road last Sunday. Sweet also has wins in the track's ACT Late Model Tour Merchants Bank 150 and Labor Day Classic 200, and he was the 2010 Late Model track champion.
When teams head to the odd quarter-mile, the hometown boy is always alone at the top of the list of threats to win. Best yet, his track title, Labor Day Classic 200 win last September and his Memorial Day Classic victory all came in different cars for different owners.
“There are so many great names on (in Thunder Road's history),” Sweet told Vermont Motorsports Magazine. “I told people, before I started racing, that I had no glimpse of ever racing (a Late Model). Just to do this, it’s bonus.
“Yes, you go and strive to be competitive, but to go out and win, amongst some of the greats, it’s just a dream come true.”
The only race of significance that Sweet hasn't won at Thunder Road is the Milk Bowl, a three-segment race with Monza-style scoring. But with each passing season, it can't be that far away.
The Vermont State Championship continues next Friday, June 8, at the Devil's Bowl Speedway.
AFTER WHAT WAS, by all accounts, a tremendous installment of the Indianapolis 500 – with lead changes, excitement, a bold last-lap move for the lead turned awry and a third trip to Victory Lane for Dario Franchitti – the powers that be once again shot themselves in the foot.
For initial post-race reaction, ABC didn't turn to Franchitti's in-car radio communication, his team owner Chip Ganassi, or his head strategist for a comment on the closing laps of Indy Car's signature race. Nope, instead they stuck the microphone in the face of Franchitti's wife, Ashley Judd.
For garnering mainstream attention or promoting Indy Car racing as a cross-cultural American experience, there's nothing wrong with the emotional wife of a victor having her say. We've seen Kim Burton cry, Delana Harvick's firesuits and even scuffles between the better halves of Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch for years on NASCAR broadcasts. But to have Judd be the first person associated with Target Chip Ganassi racing in the moments following the Indy win – and have her moments extended into painful minutes as she mused about premonitions, pit strategy and her husband's other-worldly abilities behind the wheel – was excruciatingly painful.
And a bad call by TV executives who continue to fight to gain Indy Car some traction in the U.S. market.
Sunday's hijinks certainly didn't help matters any.
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