|Bobby Santos (left) battles Tanner Swanson for the lead in Thursday night’s “Rich Vogler/USAC Hall of Fame Classic” at Lucas Oil Raceway.
(David Nearpass Photo)
SANTOS RECLAIMS THRONE AT LOR’S
“RICH VOGLER/USAC HALL OF FAME CLASSIC”
By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Brownsburg, Indiana………From 2006 through the early part of the 2010s, Lucas Oil Raceway was Bobby Santos’ jam. It was a place that had become special to the Franklin, Massachusetts driver, for it was there that he scored his first career USAC Silver Crown and National Sprint Car victories. Along the way, he tallied enough of them at LOR to place him within the top-five on the track’s all-time USAC win list.
Yet, after 2012, the win column at the .686-mile paved oval was void of Santos as the Swanson brothers (Tanner and Kody) began their era of domination, notching wins in seven of the eight Silver Crown races held at the place since Santos’ last triumph in 2012.
Thursday night, the Santos era was reborn at LOR as he outdueled Tanner Swanson early in the going, then held the point for the remainder of the 100-lapper despite having to withstand constant heavy pressure from Swanson for the majority of the event to earn his eighth overall victory at LOR, tying him with the event’s namesake Rich Vogler on the track’s all-time win list after capturing the “Rich Vogler/USAC Hall of Fame Classic.”
Ever since he was a child, Lucas Oil Raceway (formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park) was a special place for Santos, even long before he ever first set foot on the property.
“I grew up always hearing about it as a kid in Massachusetts,” Santos recalls. “Then, I got the opportunity to come here and race against guys like Dave Steele, J.J. Yeley and Tracy Hines. From the first time I came here 13 years ago, I’ve always loved this place. It just took to my driving style right away. I won some races here, but since then I’ve been off. For a couple of those years, I fell out of love with it, but now I’m back in love with it.”
The perception of USAC Silver Crown (presented by TRAXXAS) racing is that the 100-lap races are marathons and not sprints. Drivers will settle into a groove until about halfway before making their move. The opening laps of Thursday’s race were anything but as pole sitter Tanner Swanson and third-starting Bobby Santos waged war in a wheel-to-wheel, side-by-side fistfight for the first three circuits, each taking their turn at the front: Santos (lap 1), Swanson (lap 2) and Santos once again on the third lap where he would finally secure the spot.
“They’re long races and it’s important to pace yourself, but at the same time, sometimes you have to make things happen early,” Santos explains. “I got by Tanner, then pinned him down on the bottom and made him work harder than I was working those first five laps. As crazy as it sounds, I think that pinning him down on those first five laps made a difference in my car versus his at the end.”
Tanner acknowledges the importance of track position, especially at a place like LOR where it may take multiple laps to set up and complete a pass.
“It’s tough here because it’s so narrow on entry,” Tanner details. “You’ve got spotters, so you know if a guy’s going to try do something to you. They can kind of protect their line if they need to, which we all do. When you’re racing guys as good as Bobby Santos, my brother Kody and Aaron Pierce, they know where to put their car so it’s hard to get around them. If you’ve got two cars going the same speed, that makes it tough on you.”
By the 15th lap, Santos led a four-car breakaway with Tanner Swanson, Kody Swanson and Aaron Pierce in hot pursuit as the frontrunners finally settled in. At that point, and through much of the first half, Santos admits that when he distanced himself from Tanner for a bit, he thought he had it “nice and smooth.” However, following a lap 42 restart, the sprint began.
Third-running Kody Swanson lost two spots on the front-straightaway as the green flag waved, dropping him to fifth as Pierce and Jerry Coons, Jr. scooted by for third and fourth, respectively. Meanwhile, Tanner hung right with Santos and was ready to pounce if the opportunity arose.
“They’re long races and it’s important to pace yourself, but at the same time, sometimes you have to make things happen early,” Santos explains. “I got by Tanner, then pinned him down on the bottom and made him work harder than I was working those first five laps. As crazy as it sounds, I think that pinning him down on those first five laps made a difference in my car versus his at the end.” – Bobby Santos –
(John Mahoney Photo)
On lap 58, Tanner took a chance on Santos as they came up to lap Tyler Courtney who was making his pavement Silver Crown debut. Santos, the master craftsman that he is, executed the first of several lapped cars without a flinch, denying Tanner a golden opportunity. Though lapped cars can be disruptive to the leaders at times, often they can prove to be just as beneficial. Either way, they have, and always will be, a part of the deal.
“Lapped cars are tough,” Santos plainly states. “Everyone did a good job holding their line. Some of them were on the top and some of them were on the bottom, so we had to go inside and out. I think a handful of us are pretty fast here and you’re going to deal with lapped cars. It’s part of the race and, sometimes, being the guy out front is actually a disadvantage with lapped cars. I just had to work hard to not allow that to hurt us.”
Santos and Tanner remained tied together in this high-speed dance, separated by no more than, at most, two car lengths at any point. Each time, it appeared Santos had won another battleground by overtaking another lapped car. Yet, each time, there was Tanner, mimicking Santos’ every move and losing absolutely no ground.
Lap after lap, Tanner was Tom and Santos was Jerry in this game of cat-and-mouse when they were finally able to clear the bulk of lapped traffic with 25 to go, leaving no traffic ahead of them for half a track. The breathing room would quickly subside as the two re-entered rush hour with 15 remaining, but if Tanner was waiting for a mistake by Santos down the stretch, he wasn’t seeing it as Santos was picture perfect after both dove under Coons with 11 to go.
Tanner was waiting, watching and thinking where he could make his move. An opportunity appeared to be on the horizon as a four-car group battled two and three-wide a half-straightaway ahead. Tanner knew this was the spot he’d been anxiously waiting for.
“I ended up getting Kody in lapped traffic here in the July race a couple years ago,” Tanner remembers. “That’s your best chance to make a move. I tried to get up on the horse and run him down before we got to them. It’s tough to tell where lapped cars are going which makes it tough to make a play on a guy.”
Approaching the gaggle with cautious optimism, that opportunity nearly blew up in front of both Santos and Tanner with eight laps to go as Annie Breidinger, having a solid top-ten run in her series debut, got sideways and tagged the turn three SAFER barrier before continuing on in front of the leaders. That brought out the yellow, thus sending the lapped cars to the tail and presenting a clear track ahead for Santos and Tanner on the green-white-checkered restart.
Though disappointed by the yellow, a chance still existed. After all, during a green-white-checkered run to end May’s event, it was Santos who beat Tanner for second.
“I was going to try and make it exciting,” Tanner admits. “But we just didn’t get that good of a restart. The motor stumbled a little bit and that was all she wrote. You just can’t give a guy like Bobby Santos two car-lengths with two laps to go. He knows how to finish off these races.”
That, he did. Santos picked up the throttle and, as he did, for 400 consecutive turns, did not turn a wheel wrong and finished off a Hall of Fame-worthy performance on a night honoring the 12 newest inductees to the USAC Hall of Fame, defeating Tanner Swanson, Aaron Pierce, Kody Swanson and Chris Windom to the line for his eighth career Silver Crown victory, moving him into sole possession of 13th on the all-time Silver Crown win list.
It’s been a storybook beginning to Santos’s season in his DJ Racing/Simpson Race Products/Beast/VDS Chevy, following a win at Phoenix in April, a second at LOR in May and now another victory at LOR heading into next Friday’s Hemelgarn Super Fitness Rollie Beale Classic at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway.
Speaking of fitness, that is something that Santos took to heart in the offseason as he aimed to get back on top of his game.
“I never thought it was important when I was young,” the 31-year-old Santos admits. “But the last couple years, it’s come into play for me. This year is the best I’ve felt in a long time. As you get older, you’ve got to do it. I just learned that the hard way the last couple years.”
Just as important, though, is the dedication he and the DJ Racing crew had on getting their racecar better. It’s a racecar that Santos admits was a solid car the last couple years, but not a winning racecar until this year.
“We were disappointed with the way we’ve ran the last couple years,” Santos said point blank. “We were good, but we were a third to fifth-place car. Winning races is what it’s all about. It keeps making you work harder when you win. But when you’re on a losing streak, it gets depressing and it’s hard to get out of. This winter, we really went to work on getting our engine better, our car better and myself better. To this point, it’s paying off.”
Of course, continuously working on the car to get it more competitive is the ultimate goal of all who race, but when you have to deal with the likes of Kody and Tanner Swanson each time you compete, you are going to have your work cut out for you. It’s something Santos realizes is not an easy task.
“We had to work our butt off for the last 70-plus laps,” Santos stated. “Kody and Tanner are awesome. It’s an honor to be able to beat those guys. They’re two of the best and to beat them it means a lot. The last race here in May, we learned something and we finally got on the same page as those two guys. It feels great to retake the throne after this one, but I’m sure they’ll be back strong the next time.”
Kingsburg, California’s Tanner Swanson’s plans for this year called for competing in only three Silver Crown events and, the majority of the time, he makes the most of each opportunity as evidenced by a third and second in his two LOR runs this season. Tanner feels he didn’t leave much on the table in his final event of 2017, but thinks he could’ve been more aggressive at certain times, in hindsight, in his Bowman Racing/Brickers Pub – Bowman Properties/Beast/Kistler Chevy.
“Santos had the car to beat all night,” Tanner credits. “There at the beginning, I kind of played with him and didn’t want to wear myself out. I probably should’ve been a little more aggressive and tried to get the lead there and set my own pace. He was moving at the start and when we got to about lap 50 or 60, I realized I was going to have to pressure him if I was going to do anything. We ran him down, but couldn’t do much once we got there. I think last year we would’ve been able to lap the field like that. Everybody else has gotten their stuff figured out. We’re just going to have to step up our game a little bit more.”
Back in May’s “Carb Night Classic,” Muncie, Indiana’s Aaron Pierce was a lapped car. This time around, he was a contender from the moment he first hit the track, finishing third in his Sam Pierce/Sam Pierce Chevrolet – G & G Racing Fuel/Beast/Chevy.
“We’ve been coming here for the last few years,” Pierce begins. “We’ve qualified fifth and we’ve run fifth. We had fast time a couple years ago and had a good car that night, but we just couldn’t get our car to race well. I think we learned a little bit tonight. In May, they lapped us, so at least we’re on the same straightaway with them now. Maybe if we can pick it up, learn a little more from them and use what we learned, we can be up here again next time. I kick myself a lot of times for not running hard enough at the beginning. I told myself tonight that I wasn’t going to take it easy at the beginning. I was going to try to run as fast as I could run the whole race.”
Contingency award winners Thursday night at Lucas Oil Raceway include Tanner Swanson (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Annie Breidinger (KSE Hard Charger) and Joss Moffatt (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES (presented by TRAXXAS) RACE RESULTS: July 20, 2017 – Brownsburg, Indiana – Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis – “Rich Vogler USAC Hall of Fame Classic”
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Tanner Swanson, 02, Bowman-21.038; 2. Kody Swanson, 63, DePalma-21.045; 3. Bobby Santos, 22, DJ Racing-21.085; 4. Aaron Pierce, 26, Pierce-21.319; 5. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn/Carli-21.386; 6. Ryan Newman, 2v, Vance-21.498; 7. Jerry Coons, Jr., 20, Nolen-21.555; 8. David Byrne, 40, Byrne-21.616; 9. Damion Gardner, 6, Klatt-21.618; 10. Chris Windom, 92, Kazmark-21.764; 11. Joe Axsom, 120, Nolen-21.915; 12. Davey Hamilton Jr., 98, RPM/Gormly-22.127; 13. Kevin Studley, 57, Studley-22.209; 14. Patrick Lawson, 2, Lawson-22.728; 15. Bill Rose, 75, Rose-22.751; 16. Joe Liguori, 4, Liguori-22.891; 17. Tyler Courtney, 99, RPM/Gormly-23.145; 18. Joss Moffatt, 32, Williams/Wright-23.236; 19. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-23.420; 20. Annie Briedinger, 80, Briedinger-24.053; 21. Shane Cottle, 81, Williams-NT.
FEATURE: (100 laps) 1. Bobby Santos, 2. Tanner Swanson, 3. Aaron Pierce, 4. Kody Swanson, 5. Chris Windom, 6. Justin Grant, 7. Jerry Coons, Jr., 8. David Byrne, 9. Davey Hamilton, Jr., 10. Annie Briedinger, 11. Kevin Studley, 12. Tyler Courtney, 13. Joss Moffatt, 14. Matt Goodnight, 15. Patrick Lawson, 16. Joe Liguori, 17. Joe Axsom, 18. Ryan Newman, 19. Bill Rose, 20. Damion Gardner, 21. Shane Cottle. NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 Santos, Lap 2 T.Swanson, Laps 3-100 Santos.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER AWARD: Annie Briedinger (18th to 10th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Joss Moffatt
NEW USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES (presented by TRAXXAS) POINTS: 1-K.Swanson-341, 2-Windom-290, 3-Coons-278, 4-Byrne-237, 5-Santos-213, 6-Pierce-197, 7-Grant-192, 8-Gardner-184, 9-T.Swanson-167, 10-Liguori-154.
NEXT USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR RACE (presented by TRAXXAS): July 28– Toledo (Ohio) Speedway – Hemelgarn Racing Super Fitness “Rollie Beale Classic”