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Bobby Santos III is a racer at heart.
Long before the third-generation driver out of Franklin, Mass., became the 2010 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, Santos quite literally had motorsports in his blood thanks to his grandfather, Bob Santos, as well as his dad, Bob Santos Jr., who both were wheelmen in their own rights.
His grandfather, Bob Santos, was a modified racer across New England, while Santos Jr. raced in other classes at local tracks like Thompson Speedway, Seekonk Speedway and Stafford Motor Speedway.
By the time Santos III came into the picture, there was no doubt his future was likely going to be behind a steering wheel.
“I guess I was about 2-years-old in my backyard, my dad had me riding around in a go kart,” Santos recalled. “And then the first actual race car I drove was a quarter midget at four-years-old.”
The racing bug bit Santos hard and he dictated to his life‘s dream: racing at the highest level of NASCAR. But before he could get there, he knew he needed to cut his teeth in the northeast racing scene — and there was nothing he loved more than the Whelen Modified Tour.
That‘s where Santos found the brunt of his success. In addition to his 2010 title run, Santos has 19 career wins on the tour, 54 top fives and 82 top 10s in 150 starts. Almost all 19 of his victories have come on the tour‘s most storied tracks — six at both New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Stafford, five at Thompson and even a triumph at Martinsville Speedway where he brought home a storied grandfather clock.
“It means everything,” Santos said of the tour. “That’s what I grew up [with]. I grew up going to Thompson and Stafford watching Ted Christopher, Mike Stefanik. Teddy was was my favorite growing up and watching guys like him, Reggie Ruggiero, that whole group of guys growing up. I mean that’s the people I looked up to, the racing that I looked up to.
“So to be successful on the tour, it means a lot. I mean as far as I’m concerned, I know there’s other modified groups and series that run in the northeast, but from my standpoint, the way I look at it, when I want to race a modified, I want to race on the tour. I want to race against the best. I want to race against Doug Coby and Justin Bonsignore. As far as I’m concerned, that‘s the best equipment and the best guys. Those are the people that I want to race because if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
A month from his 36th birthday, Santos realizes his hopes of chasing the upper echelon of stock-car racing are dwindling. He made six NASCAR Xfinity Series starts between 2007-2012 as well as a Camping World Truck Series start at Loudon in 2011, but Santos never had the proper funding for a quality ride to showcase his abilities.
If the right opportunity fell Santos‘ way to get back into one of NASCAR‘s three national touring series, Santos said he would “absolutely do it.” But the realist within him is totally content with where life has taken him.
“Because of timing or money or for whatever reasons, it never really worked out that I got to where I want it to be with [NASCAR],” Santos said. “But I am lucky enough now that I actually do race for a living.”
Santos has only made a handful of starts per year on the modified tour since last running the full schedule in 2016, but he‘s kept himself plenty busy in USAC sprint cars, super modifieds and more in the interim.
“The biggest thing I’m doing that [I‘ve] been able to make a living doing is the sprint car stuff,” Santos said. “And I work full time in the shop taking care of those cars, so I guess [I‘m] not just racing for a living, but working on race cars is basically what I get to do.”
Santos‘ passion for motorsports is evident. So what advice would he give a kid in New England eager to chase a dream in racing?
“Just go to the track and learn it and watch it,” he said. “And watch the right people and watch the right guys. Fortunately for me, I have my dad behind me and supported me since I was 4 years old right up to this day, traveling the country, helping me at the racetrack and working on race cars. It definitely takes a good support system with family and the right people around you and a lot of hard work.
“I think what’s enabled me to continue to race and at least make a living at the level I‘m at is that my dad taught me how to work on the cars and understand the cars and have knowledge of the race cars when I was little. And that put me in the position to have the job that I have now, working on race cars. If I didn’t understand the cars that I’m driving, then I wouldn‘t have the job that I have working on them.”
Santos is set to rejoin the modified tour for three of the final four races of the 2021 season: Oswego Speedway on Saturday, Richmond Raceway on Sept. 10 and the season finale at Stafford on Sept. 25.
Live coverage of the Toyota Mod Classic 150 on Saturday can be found at 7:30 p.m. ET on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and tape delayed on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.