After six years, Dave Sapienza got his first Whelen Modified Tour victory in Saturday’s Musket 250, albeit not as he might have expected.
Recovering from a back injury, Sapienza watched his replacement driver Bobby Santos win the biggest Whelen Modified Tour race of the season after a rally to the front in the final laps, Sapienza’s first win as an owner of his own team.
It was an effort that was months in the making.
After Sapienza suffered a serious back injury in a last-lap crash at Wall Stadium back in May, doctors told the Long Island native that he’d have to sit out most, if not all of the Tour season.
Sapienza was left with a couple of options: he could call it a year and shut the team down until 2020, or hire a replacement driver to fill the remaining races. He chose the latter, and he knew exactly who he wanted behind the wheel.
Enter Bobby Santos, who was in need of a Tour ride of his own.
The 2010 Tour champion, Santos had raced with the Tinio racing family since 2012. Despite only racing two full-time seasons in the No. 44, Santos went to victory lane 11 times in seven seasons. After the 2018 season, however, the partnership ended. Santos was left out of a ride for 2019.
All of that changed when Sapienza called.
“Me and Sap have become kind of friendly over the last handful of years,” Santos said. “When he got hurt… For him to call me and give me a shot to drive for his team and his car, that’s special. It’s really cool that he can do that and give me the opportunity.”
Sapienza was thrilled when the two agreed to work together.
“We had to bring him here,” Sapienza said. “I knew coming here with him in the car, there ain’t nobody better. There ain’t nobody better.”
Sapienza’s right. With today’s win, Santos has now won four of the last six races at the Magic Mile dating back to 2017, including a span during which he won three straight.
Even though it took five races for the pair to win, it wasn’t from a lack of effort. Santos felt welcomed from the get-go.
“They didn’t hold absolutely nothing back,” he said. “[Sapienza] tried so hard to give me absolutely everything I wanted and needed to be successful. This is totally his team. What he put in place here with his family and his guys… it’s an honor to be able to drive for him.”
This team has had plenty of strong runs in the past. There’s no doubt about that. It never seemed that they could pull off the complete race where everything went just right.
“We’ve struggled in the past, which any team does, and we knew all the right calls to make,” Sapienza said. “A lot of it is strategy, but a lot of it is luck, and today, the luck was in our favor.”
The jubilation in victory lane was quite the contrast from the 100-lap Tour race at Loudon in July when Santos was wrecked after contact late in the going.
“Bobby redeemed himself today,” he said. “He wanted to show that he’s got what it takes. We got the equipment. Even with me in the car, we’ve had good luck, but we’ve never had the luck that we need to win. With him in the car, he’s got that lucky charm, man.”
In a year filled with adversity for Dave Sapienza and Bobby Santos, both of them found themselves grinning in victory lane Saturday, winners of the Musket 250.