By Richie Murray
Brownsburg, Indiana (October 22, 2022)………Bobby Santos completed his pavement midget season at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in the exact same manner he started it – standing in victory lane.
Five months after kicking off the year with a triumph in May, the Franklin, Mass. native led all 40 laps of Saturday night’s Championship Saturday USAC Midget non-points, special event feature following a first lap melee that forced him to take evasive action in order to escape.
The final outcome for Santos resulted in him capturing IRP’s season-long Pavement Midget championship in his 3 Stooges Racing/Indy Performance Composites – Carpenter’s Crew/Beast/Stanton SR-11.
“It was a great year with the midget,” Santos stated. “(Car owner Jeff West) gives me a great car and I’m just lucky enough to drive it.”
While Santos’ humility is appreciated, his record at the .686-mile paved oval tells a story that few others have come close to accomplishing. His 14th overall victory at IRP moves him into sole possession of second all-time in terms of combined sprint car, midget and Silver Crown victories at the track. He now trails only Tracy Hines who accumulated 15 in his career.
Furthermore, this win was most meaningful on a personal level to the driver and crew as this was the first victory for the team since Jeff West’s father, Lenny West, passed away on June 20 of this year, making this one an extra special event.
“This one is for Jeff and his whole family,” Santos said. “This is their first win since we lost Lenny, so this one definitely goes to their family. I’ve got to thank them for everything.”
With a four-car invert, second quickest qualifier Santos started third on the grid. However, trouble ensued on the opening lap just after outside front row starter Johnny Zych edged ahead to the lead in turn two in front of pole sitter Tanner Swanson.
Suddenly, the rear wheels stepped out from underneath three-time NEMA champion Zych’s ride, sending him flipping once over like a ragdoll before landing back on all four wheels. Just behind Zych, the entire field scattered to avoid mayhem. Justin Grant slowed to avert, sending Cole Carter ramping over Grant’s left rear tire. Grant glanced off the outside wall with his right side wheels while Kyle O’Gara spun to a stop on the inside of the track.
A broken torsion bar was the result for Grant while a broken steering arm and no brakes were Carter’s ailments. Zych went away on the hook with a broken Panhard bar.
With the starting order reshuffled, Santos was moved to the outside of the front row where he promptly took off in warp speed mode, constructing an eight-tenth of a second lead over teammate, fellow Massachusetts native and fast qualifier Jake Trainor.
Meanwhile, Kyle O’Gara, who was involved in the opening lap altercation, restarted at the tail and had moved himself all the way up to the third spot by lap seven as he sliced through the field with Ginsu Knife-like precision.
O’Gara closed in on the top-two of Santos and Trainor, pulling to within a second on the stopwatch until lap 27 when Trainor fell off the pace and pulled into the pit area, the second of the frontrunning 3 Stooges Racing team to fall by the wayside.
From that point forward, just like Moe was the leader of Larry, Curly and, at times, Shemp, Joe and Curly Joe on the Three Stooges shorts, Santos was the commanding presence of all challengers on this evening at IRP.
The rest of the way, Santos cruised to a stress-free, 4.221 second triumph over O’Gara, who put in a valiant effort to charge from the back to near the front of the line. Tanner Swanson grabbed third with Justin Grant fourth after recovering from an opening lap incident. Nick Hamilton was the biggest mover as he started 11th and advanced six positions to round out the top-five.
With his winning performance, Santos became the 10th driver to record at least five career midget wins at IRP. The others to achieve the feat include Johnny Parsons with an all-time best seven. Dan Drinan, Tracy Hines, Mel Kenyon and Kenneth Nichols each possess six. Ryan Newman, Santos, Dave Steele, Tony Stewart and Rich Vogler all stand at five.
USAC MIDGET NON-POINTS SPECIAL EVENT RACE RESULTS: October 22, 2022 – Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park – Brownsburg, Indiana – .686-Mile Paved Track – Howard Companies Championship Saturday
QUALIFYING: (Two laps combined) 1. Jake Trainor, 01, 3 Stooges-42.460; 2. Bobby Santos, 98, 3 Stooges-42.806; 3. Johnny Zych, 51, 3 Stooges-43.113; 4. Tanner Swanson, 26, Pierce-43.273; 5. Kyle O’Gara, 67K, SFHR-43.323; 6. Justin Grant, 57, Abacus-43.363; 7. Nathan Byrd, 47, Bertrand-43.374; 8. Cole Carter, 7, Bertrand-43.382; 9. Kody Swanson, 44, Bertrand-43.475; 10. Dakoda Armstrong, 7A, C & A-43.963; 11. Nick Hamilton, 7K, Irwin-44.169; 12. Cody Gerhardt, 60, Western Speed-44.657; 13. Kevin Studley, 57K, Studley-44.708; 14. Blake Brannon, 40, Western Speed-46.259; 15. Annie Breidinger, 80, Breidinger-NT.
FEATURE: (40 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Bobby Santos (3), 2. Kyle O’Gara (5), 3. Tanner Swanson (1), 4. Justin Grant (6), 5. Nick Hamilton (11), 6. Cody Gerhardt (12), 7. Kevin Studley (13), 8. Blake Brannon (14), 9. Kody Swanson (9), 10. Jake Trainor (4), 11. Nathan Byrd (7), 12. Dakoda Armstrong (10), 13. Johnny Zych (2), 14. Cole Carter (8), 15. Annie Breidinger (15). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-40 Bobby Santos.
**Johnny Zych flipped on lap 1 of the feature.