Santos Scores $26,000-Plus with Hoosier Hundred Triumph at IRP
If Friday night’s Hoosier Hundred had been a standard 100-lap affair, the closing scene very well might’ve been played out to a completely different ending for Bobby Santos.
However, at a distance of 146 laps and 100 miles, this one at Indiana’s Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park was anything but standard no matter which way you dissect it.
Kody Swanson decimated the field for 115-straight laps starting with the drop of the green flag and appeared primed for a convincing victory when the unthinkable happened just a tick more than 31 laps from the finish line, the victim of a broken cam drive which turns the fuel pump.
Santos, of Franklin, Mass., took over right where Swanson left off, leading the remaining 31 laps around the .686-mile paved oval to earn more than $26,000 in total prizes, making it among the most lucrative victories for a driver in the 53-year history of the series.
Additionally, Santos’ triumph hit a monumental milestone at America’s Great Race Place. His 15th career victory at IRP tied him with Tracy Hines as the winningest driver at the track in USAC competition. To boot, Santos accomplished the feat while driving car No. 98, the numerals with which he had wheeled to IRP victory lane in the earliest days of his career and hadn’t competed with in the USAC Silver Crown series with since 2013 – a full decade ago.
Not only was the number a new one for Santos, the same goes for the car itself, the, which was constructed anew for the 2023 campaign.
“Most importantly, (car owners) Dick and Jane (Feiler), if it wasn’t for them, this wouldn’t be here,” Santos said of the team’s DJ Racing/Brown & Miller Racing Solutions – Indy Metal Finishing – Simpson/Beast/Speedway Chevy. “He told me we needed a new racecar last year, and probably the last couple years, and I kept putting him off. I didn’t want to build a new car; I didn’t want to do it! He told me going into this winter that you’re building a new car, and that’s what we’re running. He was absolutely right and this one’s for him.”
The thing was a rocket ship right from the word, “go.” Earlier in the evening, Santos was the fastest overall in Dirt Draft Practice, and followed that up by winning the pole position during Honest Abe Roofing Qualifying, which also added a $1,000 bonus to his coffer courtesy of Allgaier Performance Parts. Of Santos’ five career series pole awards, four have come at IRP. In three of those past four IRP poles entering the night, he had also won the race, setting up a good omen for Santos coming into the main event.
Santos led the 32-car field to the green flag, the largest starting lineup for a pavement USAC Silver Crown race since an August 2005 event at IRP. However, it was outside front row starter Kody Swanson who attained the early advantage, which he’d retain for the high majority of the distance.
The distance itself was unique as well, marking just the 12th time a USAC Silver Crown race has exceeded 100 laps in length, the first such event since 2011 at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway, and the first at IRP since 1988, both of which were 150 lappers. The victor of the most recent 100-plus lap event with the series nearly 12 years earlier was Kody, and for much of the time throughout this night, appeared untouchable.
A number of incidents clouded the early going. On lap 24, Billy Wease (25th) and Kyle Robbins (26th) both sustained terminal damage to their cars when they tangled in the third turn. Meanwhile, shortly after the ensuing restart, eighth running Emerson Axsom slammed the outside turn one wall on lap 41 after the front end of the car appeared to break on him. All drivers were able to climb out under their own power.
On lap 85, Derek Bischak, in his best run with the series, took advantage in charging to the fourth position when a driveline issue knocked Leary out of the contest, ultimately stopping him on the back straightaway to bring out the yellow on lap 85.
Under the caution, seven-time IRP USAC Silver Crown winner Tanner Swanson was black flagged while running third. An aero pan underneath the car was dragging the surface of the track. As Tanner pulled onto pit lane and into the Indy Metal Finishing Work Area, the crew detached the piece from the car and sent him back out where he had to restart from the tail. Ultimately, he charged back through the field in the final 48 laps to finish seventh.
However, coming back to the green flag for the lap 99 restart, a midfield kerfuffle knocked out several cars before they even got up to speed in turn three. Among the involved were Kyle Steffens (11th), Patrick Lawson (13th) and Trey Burke (18th) who all saw their races end in one fell swoop.
On the resumption, Kody appeared to have everything in check as he controlled the pace at the front of the field. However, on a dime, that’s when the entire complexion of the race changed. With a mere 31 laps remaining, on lap 115, Kody’s car dramatically slowed on the front straightaway before stopping in turn two, handing the lead over to Santos.
For Kody, it was the second race in a row this season he’d led the most laps and came up short of winning. In fact, this occasion was historic. The 115 laps led by Kody are the fourth most ever in a single USAC Silver Crown race. Furthermore, it’s the second most laps led by a driver in a non-winning performance since Rich Vogler (121) at the Minnesota Fairgrounds in 1984. Ironically, both drivers finished 19th in their respective races after their troubles.
As a result, Santos was elevated to the lead going back to green on lap 119, immediately jumping out to a 1.6 second advantage just a handful of laps later. While attrition was a concern for many onlookers with the extra distance at play, Santos was in the phase of, “What, me worry?”
“I feel like I’m probably a better mechanic than I am a racecar driver,” Santos humbly stated. “As far as putting a car together, I’m confident on that side of it. The setup isn’t always perfect, and I’ve proven that a lot. Mechanically, I’m pretty confident.”
Behind him, however, three drivers in particular were making patented late-race charges into the top-five. Taylor Ferns moved into the fifth spot after taking the position from Justin Grant in turns three and four on lap 129. Further ahead, Logan Seavey worked his way under Bischak in turn two for second on lap 138. Tyler Roahrig followed suit, swiping the final step on the metaphorical podium from Bischak with an inside turn two pass just five circuits from the finish on lap 142.
All the while, Santos was firmly in control and cementing one of the biggest victories of his fantastic career, crossing the finish line 4.271 seconds over Seavey, Roahrig and Bischak with Ferns rounding out the top-five.
For Santos, it was his third May USAC Silver Crown triumph at IRP, and his second consecutive from the pole. With the Hoosier Hundred’s longstanding tradition as a dirt race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds from 1953 until the track was converted into an unraceable surface in 2020, the 37-year-old pavement specialist could hardly believe his name was now going to be added to the illustrious list of the event’s winners.
“This is a dirt race, I mean, it belongs at the Indy Mile, but unfortunately it can’t be there,” Santos acknowledged. “It’s at IRP and us pavement racers are thankful that we at least get to race in this event as is everybody who competes with the USAC Silver Crown series.”
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) overtook Kody Swanson as the new USAC Silver Crown point leader by virtue of his runner-up finish at IRP. Seavey equaled his best career pavement finish of second with the series (Winchester Speedway in 2022) after starting all the way back in 15th aboard his Rice Motorsports-Abacus Racing/STIDA.com – CG CPAs – Indy Custom Stone/Beast/Felker Chevy.
In his three career USAC Silver Crown starts at IRP, Tyler Roahrig (Plymouth, Ind.) has finished 2nd, 3rd and 3rd. On Friday night, he grabbed a third in his first Hoosier Hundred start after beginning his race from the 10th spot in his Legacy Autosport/Metalloid – Penske Shocks/Legacy/Stanton Chevy.
Phoenix, Arizona’s Brent Yarnal and his team, outfitted with vintage matching crew shirts, were the recipients of the Best Appearing Crew award. The team received a $5,000 bonus and a custom Bulova Hoosier Hundred watch.
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