Eight years ago, Bobby Santos III was holding the championship trophy on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
After winning four races driving the iconic ‘Mystic Missile’ in 2010, Santos celebrated his first title.
Fast-forward nearly a decade and he is with a new car owner running a partial schedule on the Whelen Modified Tour while touring the country competing with various different racing organizations.
Simply put, he’s living any racer’s dream.
Tinio Motorsports decided to step away from full-time competition and scale back to part-time action with Santos in 2016 and the decision seems to have been the right one. Since the move, Santos has 14 starts, with three wins, seven top fives and 10 top-10 finishes. He’s been driving the No. 44 Tinio modified for six years.
RACING-REFERENCE: NHMS Career Stats For Bobby Santos III
"We chased the whole thing for a handful of years, and it came down to Sully (team owner) just deciding that he didn’t want to chase the whole thing anymore," Santos said. "We decided last year to go to the tracks that he enjoyed and those that were closer to home."
The Franklin, Massachusetts, driver has five starts this season, and one of them ended with a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July. The win was his third straight in competition at the ‘Magic Mile,’ and he’s heading back there this weekend looking to make history.
When the Whelen Modified Tour takes the green in the 250-lap, $25,000-to-win inaugural Musket 250 as part of Full Throttle Weekend, Santos will look to become just the third driver in series history to win at least four straight races at the 1.058-mile oval. Reggie Ruggiero won five straight from 1992-1994 while Ted Christopher won four straight events from 2004-2005.
"Honestly, I don’t know," Santos said when asked how he was able to win the last three straight. "We’ve just been there at the right time I think. We’ve had good cars everywhere the last two years. I think we just did a better job of putting ourselves in position to win when we were at Loudon."
Santos hasn’t been the dominant car the entire race over the last two years, but he’s been in position when it mattered most. He’s led a combined 15 laps across his last three victories at the oval, and often finds himself using the grip put down on the track to climb up the running order.
But, that grip won’t be out there on Saturday.
"The last two years with the grip down on the track, it kinda threw a curveball out there for everybody. I feel like that might have benefited me a little bit," Santos said. "I feel like the first few times I figured it out before everyone else. This race in itself is going to be totally different, it’s hard to predict how it is going to go. I think the last few races I figured out where to be at the right time. I think this time around, it’s going to be a whole different race track for everyone. There are going to be completely different strategies. I wouldn’t be shocked if there was a green flag pit stop at some point."
The inaugural Musket 250 will put both pit crews and drivers up against the ultimate test as they try to navigate the longest distance in series history. Santos, who has run modifieds for nearly his entire career, is one of many excited to see how it plays out.
"It’s pretty cool for the modifieds. The modified group as a whole deserves a race like this. As far as I am concerned, the talent in the pit area at a modified race is as good as, if not better than any racing in the country," Santos said. "I believe that the modifieds deserved a high-profile, high-paying race. It’s just going to be interesting with how many cars will be on the lead lap, how many will finish, and how it is going to go. It’s a long race."
What would it mean to accomplish that goal and become the inaugural winner?
"It’d be awesome," he said. "It’s a huge race and it’s definitely going to be our biggest race of the year. It’s pretty neat that New Hampshire is putting this deal together, even without the (Cup) guys being there, still able to run there twice a year. It’s going to mean a lot for our team, and I feel that we have as good of a shot as anyone."
Whelen Modified Tour News & Notes:
Watch it Live: NHMS has a number of ticket packages for fans. For the WEEKEND PACKAGE ($75) fans get one adult Saturday ticket, one adult Friday ticket and an adult pit pass for Saturday; Saturday Race Day Tickets are $35 in advance and $45 on race day, while kids 12 and under are $10. The track is also offering PIT PASSES for $40 ($20 for kids 12 and under) that includes unprecedented access into the garages and pits all day. For more packages and information: NHMS TICKETS
Fans who live out of the area and can’t make it to the track Saturday will have the ability to catch the race live through a stream on FansChoice.TV. With the free service, fans can catch the action right from the drop of the green to the checkered flag. The race will also air on NBCSN on Thursday, September 27 at 7 p.m.
Champ Trail Rolls On: With just three races remaining, Justin Bonsignore leads the championship standings by 81 points over Chase Dowling. As he looks for his first Whelen Modified Tour championship, Bonsignore has seven victories, including the last time on track, where he completed the season sweep at Riverhead Raceway. Heading into New Hampshire, Bonsignore will look to end the inaugural Musket 250 with a strong finish to extend his gap even further.
Could Be The Right Time: Chase Dowling is itching to capture the checkered flag. And the inaugural Musket 250 could be the place where he finally gets the job done. Dowling, a Roxbury, Connecticut, driver, has seven career starts at Loudon with a best finish of second, which came in July where he crossed the line just .014 seconds behind. In the first 13 races of the season, Dowling has seven finishes inside the top five, including four second-place efforts.
Winning: Through the first 13 events, Justin Bonsignore and Ryan Preece are the only drivers to win more than one race. Bonsignore has seven checkered flags, while Preece, who has run part-time, has two. Jon McKennedy, Bobby Santos III, Doug Coby and Matt Hirschman are the other drivers who have been to Victory Lane.
Up Next: Whelen Modified Tour teams won’t have much time to rebound from the inaugural Musket 250 before getting back on the track. The 46th annual NAPA Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway is scheduled for September 29 and 30, before the season concludes in October.