Brownsburg, Indiana………Bobby Santos admitted that it took him a minute to get reacclimated to midget racing Saturday night at Brownsburg, Indiana’s Lucas Oil Raceway.
Yet, when was all said and done, there was no evidence of rust anywhere to be found as Santos stood up in his seat to celebrate his second career Night Before the 500 victory in the USAC non-points special midget event at the .686-mile paved oval.
The victory for Santos came aboard a car prepared by an all East Coast team, one that has a heritage of success at LOR, including two victories with Ken Schrader behind the wheel of the team’s Silver Crown car in 1986 and 1989.
This particular evening belonged to Santos, however, as he led the first half of the 30-lap feature, lost the lead, then regained it with 11 laps remaining to secure the monumental victory in the Seymour-West/Indy Performance Composites – DTF Performance – Seaman Mechanical/Beast/Stanton SR-11x.
“These guys are awesome,” Santos said of the Seymour-West team. “They put together an unbelievable racecar, Jeff West, IPC, Matt and Bobby Seymour. I drove for them years ago, and it’s pretty awesome to get back into one of their racecars, ‘The Spirit of Boston.’ That means a lot to be driving the 29.”
The Franklin, Mass. native’s first Night Before the 500 Midget victory came 14 years ago in 2006, making it the longest duration between victories in the event, surpassing the 12 years that passed between Mel Kenyon’s second and third victories in the event in 1965 and 1977.
The win marked Santos’ ninth overall USAC-sanctioned victory at LOR, which ranks fourth all-time in that department. Interesting enough, the battle for victory came down between he and the only other past Night Before the 500 winner in the starting field for the midget feature, 2010 victor Tanner Swanson, who owns seven USAC victories of his own at LOR, including the previous night’s Silver Crown 100-lapper.
Santos broke away from his outside front row starting position to nip pole sitter Kody Swanson at the line and lead the opening lap by a single car length over the eight-time LOR USAC winner who scored an Indy Pro 2000 Series triumph at the same track just one night prior.
Stretching his lead out to 12 car lengths early on, Santos began to be reeled in ever so slightly by the suddenly surging Tanner Swanson, who cropped Santos’ advantage from 1.2 sec. to around six-tenths just prior to the lap 16 yellow for 18th running Nathan Byrd who spun and smacked the turn two wall with the left side of his machine. He was okay.
Continuing his sudden surge, Tanner, wheeling the most recent Night Before the 500 winning car driven to victory by Tracy Hines 2014, dove to the inside of turn one on the ensuing restart, sliding up in front of Santos as he drifted to the outside wall. Meanwhile, Santos cut back under to ride side-by-side with Tanner momentarily before Tanner bested Santos off turn two to secure the lead for the next four circuits while third-starting Californian, Courtney Crone, impressed by moving to third as Kody Swanson began to drop out of contention, and out of the race, with a cut left rear tire, finishing 18th.
However, on the 20th lap, Santos flexed his muscle with a resilient comeback that saw him throw his machine to the bottom of turn three under Tanner. The two rode wheel-to-wheel throughout the entirety of the long sweeping corners before Santos ultimately emerged with the race lead off turn four.
Kyle Hamilton made a furious challenge for second on Tanner in the waning laps, with Tanner clamping down to retain the runner-up spot while Santos distanced himself from the herd to snag the 1.382 sec. margin of victory over Tanner Swanson, Kyle Hamilton, Thomas Meseraull and 15-year-old NEMA regular, Jake Trainor. Crone, the 2016 USAC Western States Midget Rookie of the Year, fell back to sixth at race’s end.
Utilizing a Stanton SR-11x engine from Hayward Motorsports and raced by Tanner Thorson on the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget trail, Santos added onto his LOR USAC win total with his second midget score to go along with four Silver Crown and three Sprint Car wins.
In the end, it was a complete team effort and the resiliency of Santos to get up, get knocked down, then get back up again two-thirds of the way into the event to earn a race win that both team and driver will forever covet.
“At the end of the race, my guys gave me a rock solid racecar; they gave me what I needed,” Santos remarked. “We took off good at the start, but he obviously did a little better job than I did getting going. I just kept my cool and knew if I continued to roll the top, we could attack him again.”
USAC MIDGET SPECIAL EVENT RACE RESULTS: August 22, 2020 – Lucas Oil Raceway – Brownsburg, Indiana – .686-Mile Paved Oval – 70th Night Before the 500
QUALIFYING: 1. Kody Swanson, 3, Bohanon/Felker-21.238; 2. Bobby Santos, 29, Seymour/West-21.413; 3. Courtney Crone, 25, Rodela-21.571; 4. Thomas Meseraull, 7x, RMS-21.625; 5. Tanner Swanson, 7K, Petry/Irwin-21.643; 6. Jake Trainor, 8, Trainor-21.774; 7. Justin Grant, 66, Sanderson-21.864; 8. Kyle Hamilton, 4, Klatt-21.930; 9. Kyle O’Gara, 1BR, SFHR-22.017; 10. Mario Clouser, 99, Guess-22.031; 11. Cole Carter, 47, Bertrand-22.135; 12. Jim Anderson, 36, Anderson-22.216; 13. Johnny Zych, 9, Zych-22.248; 14. Avery Stoehr, 39, Bertrand-22.282; 15. Todd Bertrand, 48, Bertrand-22.289; 16. Nick Hamilton, 33, Hamilton-22.304; 17. Alby Ovitt, 17, Bertrand-22.309; 18. Nathan Byrd, 33B, RayPro-22.356; 19. Derek Bischak, 31, BCD-22.613; 20. Kevin Studley, 57K, Studley-22.796; 21. Cody Gerhardt, 60, Western Speed-22.807; 22. Maria Cofer, 88, Arata-23.026; 23. Annie Breidinger, 80, Breidinger-24.121; 24. Ryan Shilkuski, 75, Shilkuski-NT; 25. Brandon Maurer, 14, Maurer-NT; 26. Dylan Nobile, 80x, Western Speed-NT.
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Bobby Santos (2), 2. Tanner Swanson (5), 3. Kyle Hamilton (8), 4. Thomas Meseraull (4), 5. Jake Trainor (6), 6. Courtney Crone (3), 7. Cole Carter (11), 8. Nick Hamilton (16), 9. Jim Anderson (12), 10. Kyle O’Gara (9), 11. Kevin Studley (20), 12. Mario Clouser (10), 13. Derek Bischak (19), 14. Johnny Zych (13), 15. Todd Bertrand (15), 16. Alby Ovitt (17), 17. Maria Cofer (22), 18. Kody Swanson (1), 19. Avery Stoehr (14), 20. Nathan Byrd (18), 21. Cody Gerhardt (21), 22. Justin Grant (7), 23. Annie Breidinger (23), 24. Ryan Shilkuski (24). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-15 Bobby Santos, Laps 16-19 Tanner Swanson, Laps 20-30 Bobby Santos.
-USAC Racing Press Release
-Photo credit: Al Steinberg