Toledo, Ohio………Bobby Santos’ golden reputation as a racer has been well-established and well-earned.
From open wheel cars, to full-bodied stock cars to modifieds, the Franklin, Massachusetts native has driven them all and tamed them all at one point or another in his masterful career.
In Friday night’s Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness “Rollie Beale Classic,” the 31-year-old driver had a single pin left standing in his lane on the way to cementing his diverse capabilities behind the wheel, if you ever doubted him for any reason.
After notching previous USAC National victories at Toledo Speedway in a Sprint Car (2006) and a Midget (2009), Santos completed the triple threat by winning his first Silver Crown event at the half-mile paved oval, thus becoming the 20th driver ever to win features in all of USAC’s three current national series at a single track.
Even more striking is that he had already accomplished the feat once before at Brownsburg, Indiana’s Lucas Oil Raceway, casting him into an even more exclusive club of individuals who’ve done the deed at multiple venues such as Dave Darland, Jack Hewitt, Tracy Hines and Dave Steele.
To get there, though, Santos had to do something that isn’t a regular occurrence at Toledo, let alone anywhere for that matter. He had to pass two-time USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series presented by TRAXXAS champion Kody Swanson. No small chore considering the two previous instances Swanson started from the pole in a Silver Crown car at Toledo, in 2011 and 2015, he led every single lap, all 250 of them, on his way to a pair of commanding wins.
Santos would start this year’s edition alongside Swanson from the outside of the front row. Swanson set the tone early, emerging with the lead by a half-car length at the line following a first lap that went entirely wheel-to-wheel for a full revolution.
Lapped traffic would prove to play a pivotal role throughout the 100-lap stretch and, by lap nine, the leaders had already encroached the tail end of the field. Swanson’s breakaway would be stifled early on when he encountered a nest of cars that slowed his roll, allowing Santos and Chris Windom to shred the interval and close to within a heartbeat of the two-time champ as the top-three runners separated themselves as the main contenders.
A third of the way through, the top-three bobbed and weaved inside and outside the lappers with Swanson assuming the role of maestro and orchestrating his own destiny by attacking the pack with authority as Santos and Windom trailed in hot pursuit.
Just prior to the halfway mark, on lap 45, Swanson got hung up while lapping David Byrne, leaving him with a split-second decision to make. Which lane to choose?
“We were pretty good in the first third of it,” Swanson remembered. “About 15 laps in, I was starting to hang sideways a little off the corner and I felt like I was in trouble. I survived a few of the lapped cars just by choosing the right lane. Byrne was just fast enough to make it a tough choice. I turned to go down under him and it hung sideways off turn two. I knew I was a sitting duck after that. He had the momentum and was able to clear me for the lead.”
Meanwhile, Santos saw the opportunity he had been anticipating and this was a chance he wasn’t going to pass up as he charged to the outside of Byrne in the gray midway down the back straightaway while Swanson simultaneously weed-whacked the edge of the infield grass underneath Byrne.
“It was just circumstance,” Santos assured. “We had a good car on the run and I felt we were making progress the longer it went. We just got to the point where we were going to work him over and pass him. The opportunity just kind of popped up when we needed it and that’s what it’s all about. You must put yourself in the right position when opportunities arise.”
Santos then kicked it up another notch and left Swanson and Windom to battle amongst themselves for second as he constructed a two-second lead over the next 25-plus laps. Windom’s engine began to leave a trail of smoke, but his speed was unhampered as he applied constant pressure to Swanson.
With 13 laps remaining, Santos maintained a healthy advantage, yet what lie ahead had him sweating a bit when RPM/Gormly teammates Joe Liguori and Davey Hamilton battled side-by-side for the fifth position with the leaders on their heels. Santos was forced to check up as he deciphered which avenue to make his escape, which played into the favor of Swanson and Windom who both caught up to Santos as the three ran nose-to-tail inside 10 laps to go.
That left Santos with one thought as he studied his next move, but he’s experienced enough in this sport to know that racing can giveth, yet it can taketh away just as easily.
“Get out of the way,” Santos said with a laugh. “Lapped traffic made it hard on us, but that’s part of racing. That’s the way it goes. The lapped traffic gave us an opportunity when we took the lead from Kody just as it did at the end of the race for Kody.”
It took half a race for Santos to build up a two second lead and just three laps for it all to evaporate, but Santos remained unfazed and, in a two-lap succession, disposed of both Hamilton and Liguori for a little separation and relative comfort.
The rapid pace would be dialed down when the first and only caution of the night fell on lap 97 for series rookie Troy Thompson who slid sideways to a stop on the front straightaway, necessitating a green-white-checkered finish. The caution certainly benefitted Santos more than it did Swanson, and though Santos felt he had Swanson covered at that point regardless, he wasn’t too unpleased about the timing of it.
“At that point, I had finally cleared the lapped cars and it, at least, gave us a chance to catch our breath and get ready for the last two laps,” Santos recalls. “Usually, the guy in second has the advantage in lapped traffic, but after the yellow, we had a clear track from there on out. I knew if I hit my marks, /we had a good shot at it.”
Santos was on his marks and set for victory when the green flag flew for the final two-lap sprint, gaining a few car lengths to his advantage right off the bat. Swanson tried with all his might to set himself up to make a move to no avail as Santos peeled away for his third Silver Crown of the season, and second in a span of nine days, over Swanson, Windom, Jerry Coons, Jr. and Joe Liguori. It was Santos’ ninth career Silver Crown victory, tying him with Tracy Hines for 12th on the all-time list.
Series point leader Kody Swanson of Kingsburg, California took second in his DePalma Motorsports/Radio Hospital – Hampshire Racing Engines/Beast/Hampshire despite fighting an ill-handling car that the crew continued to tweak and adjust all throughout the night.
“We were fastest in practice and fastest in qualifying, but we were really only good for the first lap,” Swanson explains. “I knew we were in trouble the longer it was going to go, which isn’t our normal style, but that was just the way it was handling today. We don’t do this often, but even though we won the pole, we made changes before the feature and were able to make it better.”
“The longer it went, I tell you what, we just didn’t quit,” Swanson continued. “That’s why I like these 100-lap races. Maybe something will come to you. We caught that caution with three to go. I was setting up and really thought we had a shot to return the favor. When you’re the second guy into traffic, you have the benefit that the leader has to pick a lane and you can choose the other one and see if it works out. I was really hoping we’d have that chance at the end, but a caution kind of spoiled that. I sat up in the seat and gave it two hard laps to see if we could at least make him earn it.”
Defending series champion Chris Windom of Canton, Illinois captured his best finish on the hardtop in 2017, finishing third in his Kazmark Racing/Project Healing Waters – Remin Kart-A-Bag/Beast/Ford.
Contingency awards Friday night at Toledo Speedway included Kody Swanson (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Joe Axsom (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Joss Moffatt (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES (presented by TRAXXAS) RACE RESULTS: July 28, 2017 – Toledo, Ohio – Toledo Speedway – Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness “Rollie Beale Classic”
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Kody Swanson, 63, DePalma-15.084; 2. Bobby Santos, 22, DJ Racing-15.187; 3. Aaron Pierce, 26, Pierce-15.306; 4. Chris Windom, 92, Kazmark-15.335; 5. David Byrne, 40, Byrne-15.338; 6. Jerry Coons Jr., 20, Nolen-15.368; 7. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn/Carli-15.420; 8. Joe Liguori, 98, RPM/Gormly-15.520; 9. Davey Hamilton, 99, RPM/Gormly-15.638; 10. Damion Gardner, 6, Klatt-15.736; 11. Joe Axsom, 120, Nolen-15.773; 12. Annie Breidinger, 80, Breidinger-16.191; 13. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-16.595; 14. Troy Thompson, 15, Thompson-16.598; 15. Joss Moffatt, 32, Williams & Wright-17.038; 16. Cody Gallogly, 81, Williams-NT.
FEATURE: (100 laps) 1. Bobby Santos, 2. Kody Swanson, 3. Chris Windom, 4. Jerry Coons Jr., 5. Joe Liguori, 6. Davey Hamilton, 7. Joe Axsom, 8. David Byrne, 9. Annie Breidinger, 10. Justin Grant, 11. Troy Thompson, 12. Aaron Pierce, 13. Joss Moffatt, 14. Damion Gardner, 15. Matt Goodnight. 28:48.16
**Gallogly crashed into the outside barrier and flipped in turn three during practice.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-44 Swanson, Laps 45-100 Santos.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER AWARD: Joe Axsom (11th to 7th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Joss Moffatt
NEW USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES (presented by TRAXXAS) POINTS: 1-K.Swanson-411, 2-Windom-354, 3-Coons-339, 4-Santos-286, 5-Byrne-286, 6-Pierce-236, 7-Grant-235, 8-Gardner-219, 9-Liguori-212. 10-Tanner Swanson-167.
NEXT USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES (presented by TRAXXAS) RACE: August 12 – Salem, Indiana – Salem Speedway – “Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial”