The reality of the dangers surrounding auto racing have set in for Dave Sapienza.
The Riverhead, New York, driver was involved in a crash during the final lap of the Jersey Shore 150 at Wall Stadium Speedway on May 18, where he suffered a back injury that has sidelined him from competition. Contact with Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Timmy Catalano sent both of them heading straight into a barrier in the infield.
The six-year veteran of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour action doesn’t enjoy spending time outside the race car, but, he’s found a way to make the best of it as a car owner. Sapienza had former NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion Burt Myers wheel the car to a fourth-place finish at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on June 5. At Riverhead, former track regular Frank Vigliarolo Jr. finished 14th driving the car.
“The healing process is eight to 10 weeks, but I’m still in a lot of pain,” Sapienza said at Riverhead Raceway. “I watched the video for the first time just a few days ago. All I know is when we got together, I figured we should make it across the finish line because we were coming off Turn 4. I saw Rob Summers clip us, and I remember hitting the concrete wall. I was screaming on the radio because my back was in instant pain.”
Sapienza knows the mindset it takes to get the job done behind the wheel, but, he also now knows what happens when something goes terribly wrong.
“It could have been avoided, I know it’s the last lap and you have to do what you have to do, but I didn’t realize it was that bad, I felt it instantly,” Sapienza said.
Will there be any question in his mind about getting back in the car?
“No, no, no,” Sapienza said with a laugh. “I’m definitely getting back in. Even if I was paralyzed, I’d still make something work. I’m getting back in these things.”
After a switch to LFR Chassis last season, Sapeinza found more speed under the hood of the No. 36 Sapeinza Enterprises Chevrolet. He finished seventh in his first time with the new car at Stafford Motor Speedway’s NAPA Fall Final last year, and even though the results don’t show it, he feels like the start to this season was strong.
“We were right there, just had a bunch of stupid things go against us with luck, but we were always in the top five,” Sapienza said. “Just need to get some of the luck with me.”
Right now, the plan is for former Whelen Modified Tour champion Bobby Santos III to drive the car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 20. Sapienza couldn’t have selected a much better replacement. Santos has four career wins at the 1.058-mile oval, including three of the last four while driving for Tinio Motorsports. He’s been sidelined for the first half of the season because the Tinio team elected to take a year off, but Santos has been winning Sprint Car races on asphalt in his spare time.
“It’s exciting for me. It’s going to show that the car definitely has potential. I told Bobby that there’s one thing he needs to do when he gets in my car, and that is that I don’t want him jumping up and down on the roof when he wins at New Hampshire like he’s done the last couple of times,” Sapienza joked. “He crushed in the Tinio car good. Bobby is excited and I’m really happy to see him go there and have a shot. If you went to Las Vegas, he’d be the man to bet on. The man favored to win.”
With plans set in place for the remainder of the season, all that remains is the recovery before Sapienza can strap in the car again.
“I’m going to try and get in the car hopefully for Oswego Speedway,” Sapeinza said. “Bobby is definitely doing the Loudon race, Stafford (on August 2) and the Thompson race (on August 14). If I can’t get in, he’s going to do the rest for me. After Thompson, we will see how I feel. I’m probably going to run one of my other cars here at Riverhead to shake it down just to be sure I’m feeling good.”