Bobby Santos in the Richie Evans tribute car duels
with Glenn Tyler. (Howie Hodge Photo)
SATURDAY FOLK AT
The forecast for New
Hampshire’s weekend of September 25-26 was about as soggy as the
nation’s economy. But when Tony Stewart smoked into Victory Lane for
Sunday’s Sylvania 300, he was greeted with beaming sunshine and
In many ways, however, the racing at
NHMS the day before was more captivating. Jerry Gappens and crew
ordered up quite the meaty mixture of competition. All manner of
motorized characters assembled at the Magic Mile, in modifieds,
trucks, and Tour late models.
The Whelen Modifieds
usual, the NASCAR East Coast mods delivered one ferocious thrill
show. Seventeen lead changes culminated in the typical late-race
scramble, this time with Todd Szegedy, Ron Silk, Justin Bonsignore,
and Teddy Christopher. Silk won it, barely sneaking over Szegedy in
the Series point lead.
Many fans, though, were focused on the
“Mystic Missile” Dodge, starting way down in the back row. The
driver, Bobby Santos III, last year’s Series champion, had been
messed up in a flight from the Midwest and missed qualifying.
It’s hard to know just why young Bobby Santos has become so very
popular, but try to find anyone in the Northeast who doesn’t root
for him. Son and grandson of racers of the same name, Bobby climbed
on shoe strings up through karts, supers, and midgets. In his
smiling, soft-spoken manner, he flat-out dazzled railbirds with
anything he drove. His resume already runs over with records and
championships. The only thing that troubles the racing community is
why in the world this kid is still racing on Saturdays. How could it
possibly be that he does not sit in a Cup or Indy car?
took off aggressively at the green, and the crowd was psyched. But,
says Bobby, “I knew I was in trouble from the beginning. The motor
was really laying down – maybe valve springs.” He did end up
leading briefly through pit strategy, but then faded deep in the
It was especially disappointing to modified heads, as
the Mystic Missile was branded with Richie Evans colors in fitting
tribute to the forthcoming induction of the late “Rapid Roman” into
NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.
Bobby’s season is hardly at sunset,
though. There are the remaining modified shows. He leads the USAC
pavement sprint car point chase going into the final event at
Indianapolis Raceway Park on October 13. And then it will be off to
California for Turkey Night with the fastest midgets in the world.
The Camping World Trucks
Way back on April 23, the
track held a fan appreciation day, warming that frost of a hard
Loudon winter. Part of it was a singing contest of the National
Anthem. The idea was that the best of the contestants would perform
on race days.
Six months later, at the start of the F.W. Webb
175 truck race, an unlikely crooner took to the stage. It was
Christopher Duffley’s grand moment, and he knocked it right out of
the ball park. The blind and autistic nine-year-old sang perfectly
and with passion, drawing a standing ovation from all who heard –
even in that edgy Media Center.
(Laurie Thiboutot/NHMS staff
The race itself was
not the picture of excitement. Rowdy Busch was in no way rowdy, just
plainly dominant, leading all but a few circuits.
though, just scratch the surface in NASCAR truck racing and look for
the stories of guys desperately seeking their role on NASCAR’s
Back in 2007, a relatively unheralded shoe
out of Clovis, CA, showed up at the East-West Supermodified shootout
at Concord, NC. He careened from 16th starting spot to the lead in
25 laps and held off ISMA, MSA and all comers for the second 25 –
and a stunning win.
It was a tipping point for A.J. Russell.
The scouts of NASCAR were watching. “At some point I mentioned to
someone there that I am Native American (member of the Cherokee
Nation of Oklahoma). I was never interested in playing that card
before, but it hit a chord. I thought if I could raise some
awareness for my community in my racing, I should.”
led to another, and A.J. appeared in the Granite State with a loaner
truck from Jennifer Jo Cobb. The team owner is David Melton, the
crew chief, Rich Kuty.
David, too, is Native American, an
entrepreneur who runs a major solar energy integration company in
Albuquerque. The firm is Sacred Power, reflecting the importance of
the sun as the power source of life in Indian spirituality. Melton
believes this is the first Native American team in NASCAR’s national
A.J. Russell and David
Melton. (Dick Berggren Photo)
The Sacred Power
guys struggled a bit with brakes and other demons in the race, but
Russell drove smoothly – almost confidently – finishing up 26th.
“Somehow the driving part comes naturally to me,” he says quite
believably. “Finding the right engineering like Austin Dillon has,
though, that’s another story.” Also believable.
Cobb has agreed to collaborate again, performance-dependent, in Kentucky, Texas, Vegas, and
And, if the team can keep the spirits up, they’ll
be in Daytona, all prepped for the full 2012 season.
The ACT Tour Late Model Invitational
It’s now four times that Ken Squier and Tom Curley’s American
Canadian Tour cars have descended on Loudon. Would that it had been
40 times. Perhaps other than Christopher Duffley, the sprawling
field – 43 strong – put on the best show of the weekend.
Bobby Santos is the most successful all-around young driver in the
Northeast, Massachusetts’ Eddie MacDonald and Vermont’s Nick Sweet
have to be considered best of the new breed in the late model ranks.
And starting in 25th and 27th slots, they motored in tandem through
dense traffic to the front in a delightfully quick and racy 50-lap
Eddie Mac, already almost legendary for his blinding
speed and high groove antics – especially at Loudon, was first to
break out of the pack. In his hauler on the way to Dover the
following Wednesday, he admitted, “I was shocked when I realized
someone had come through the pack with me. I kinda hoped I could
just stretch out a lead. Not so. There he was on my back bumper.”
That’s Nick Sweet on the
bottom on the track and on the right post-race.
up top and on the left. (Eric LaFleche Photos)
And that was the
beginning of an amazing ten-lap duel, the crowd fully in the
vertical mode cheering them on. In the end Eddie prevailed. It was
the stuff of great racing.
Nick says, “Eddie is so much more
experienced than I am, and so it was really thrilling. I‘m not sure
that there has been that much side-by-side racing like we did – so
hard but never touching – at NHMS. We were trusting each other big
Eddie went on to say, “I definitely pinched him down
to take his line off the corner, but still he would pull ahead a
couple of times. He was so fast. I apologized later, but I really
wanted to win the race.”
Nick was thinking about that, too.
“I never second-guess a race, but this time I am. I keep running it
through my mind. Should I have moved him up a little? He’s the cream
of the crop, and, when you’re racing with him at the end of the day,
it’s one good day. Sure it was special to race him, but it would
have been more special to beat him off that last turn.”
© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181
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