Bobby Santos, III: A Racer Long on Talent, But Short on Cash by Mike Twist
After Running Up From in Everything From ARCA to USAC, 2008 Plans Are a Question Mark
No money? No problem! This is a talent-driven business right?
Well, it might have been in the late 1990’s when Stewart rocketed his way from the short track of Indiana to become a national champion in the Indy Racing League and a two-time NASCAR Cup Series titlist, but the formula seems to be outdated in 2008.
After all, why else would Bobby Santos, III be sitting on the sidelines as the start of the racing season rolls around?
Santos has won in Sprint Cars, Midgets, NASCAR Modifieds, Supermodifieds and other kinds of racecars. He has won the big shows like the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Irwindale, the World Series at Thompson, the “Night Before the 500" at O'Reilly Raceway Park, the Budweiser Classic at Oswego, the All-Star Showdown at Concord, The DAV Memorial at Seekonk and the Ollie Silva Memorial at Lee. He’s run up front in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. He held his own against the
Bobby Santos, III (51 Photo)
It was a step-by-step plan that worked for Tony Stewart. Start racing early, show an exceptional amount of talent, drive any open-wheeled car that you could beg, borrow or steal your way into, win races…a lot and finally earn the respect of veteran racers. If you follow these steps, and possessed equally incredible amounts of skill and determination, you’d be set in racing and have your pick of going to the top of the world in stock car racing or IndyCars.
“Buschwhackers” in a handful of NASCAR Busch Series events during the 2007 season. He’s been to the Roush Racing Gong Show. Plus, he’s only 22 years old, he’s bright and he’s the kind of kid that would make any sponsor proud on or off the track.
And yet nobody is fighting over him. How on Earth could that be?
The answer is simple.
“It’s all about money right now,” said Santos. “You can take someone who hasn’t really done any racing at all, but if they have a couple of million dollars, they have a ride. That’s the way that it is. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I have much more experience than half the guys in the field right now. I just don’t have money.”
Although he was brought up as an open-wheeled pilot, Santos branched out into Stock Cars as part of a Driver Development Program at Bill Davis Racing. He got to enter eight ARCA races and set fast time in two of those events. He also has a pair of third-place finishes to his name in the series and almost won at Iowa Speedway before encountering mechanical problems.
Continuing his trend of making the most out of a limited opportunity, Santos also made four Busch Series starts for the now-closed Riley D'Hondt Motorsports operation, qualifying in the top 10 twice.
Bobby Santos, III stands by the Ole' Blue #3 Modified. (Jamie Williams Photo)
“I ran Busch races last year and I feel that I’m ready to go and run a Busch car [full-time],” said Santos. “We qualified out front at Loudon and was the only non-Cup guy to qualify up front. At Richmond, I qualified up front and ran up front all race until misfortune struck. So I know that I’m ready for it.
“I’ve run decent in a Stock Car. I still have some things to learn, but I’ll figure it out. I know that I can be really good at it, but I need the opportunity.”
When he wasn’t trying out cars with fenders in the past few seasons, Santos picked up partial schedule or one-off rides in USAC, PRA and on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He’s made the most of those chances as well, winning a PRA Big Car race at Lakeland driving for Sprint Cup star Carl Edwards and giving a Toyota engine its their first victory in USAC Sprint Cars in the Turkey Night Grand Prix. But the biggest victory of them all might just have come during the World Series last fall at Thompson.
The race was the 11th and final time of the year when he would drive the legendary Ole’ Blue #3 Modified for Boehler Racing Enterprises. Like Santos, the team lacked big funding, but they made up for that fact by using decades of experience and just plain hard work to compete against some well-funded competition, and amazingly enough Santos became the latest driver to win with Ole’ Blue – even on a track where the horsepower produced by the latest, greatest and most expensive engines out there is king.
For Santos, who grew up in the same Southeastern Massachusetts region where the Boehler shops are located, the victory stood out.
“That race probably meant more to me than anything,” said Santos. “It really meant a lot. I grew up going to Stafford and Thompson watching the Modifieds. I’ve driven them for awhile, but I never really felt like I proved myself in one until that race, so winning that race meant a lot.
“That Modified is The Modified. When you think of Modified racing, you think of Ole’ Blue and the guys who drove it – Bugsy and the whole bunch of them. It’s neat just to be in the same category as that – just as one of the drivers.”
Whether Santos returns to the seat of the #3 car at all this coming season at all is up in the air.
“We’re up in the air right now about this year. We’re still trying to figure things out. We’re talking to Michael [Boehler] and anything can happen.”
Actually, Santos doesn’t really have any set plans for 2008 yet.
“It’s been a bad off-season for figuring out racing [plans],” he admits.
But Santos has something seemingly more important than cash or even talent. He has connections. His family’s background in the sport, his friendly personality and his ability to win have made him many friends. He knows people down south who own racecars, run race teams and turn wrenches in NASCAR shops. Don’t those connections matter?
“Yeah, but they only mean so much,” said Santos. “What matters is money. I could have three different rides down there tomorrow if I had money. It only does so good that people know me or know who I am.”
If doors continue to be locked for Santos in the world of NASCAR, would he consider a path to IndyCar racing? After all, that subculture of the sport has been criticized for having a lack of young American talent in recent years – with big homegrown names
Santos celebrates his World Series victory at Thompson. (Jim Dupont Photo)
like Stewart, Robby Gordon and Sam Hornish defecting to NASCAR, could that leave a place for Santos?
Once again, the money issue comes up.
“If I had the opportunity, I’d take it in a second. But that seemed like it was worse than NASCAR with the money situation. If I had an opportunity to drive an IndyCar, I’d do it.”
In the meantime, Santos will consider any short track ride that is available and ready for him to win in.