Bobby Santos III has made a habit of winning in nearly every type of race car he has driven.
USAC Silver Crown? Check. NASCAR modifieds? Check. Winged asphalt sprint cars? Check. Supermodifieds? Check. USAC midgets? Check. You get the idea.
The 32-year-old native of Franklin, Mass., loves to race. He’s been doing it since he was 3 years old when his father put him in a go-kart for the first time in his family’s backyard. That proved to be the start of a lifelong love affair with motorsports.
“My grandfather was a modified racer in the Northeast. That’s kind of where it started in our family,” Santos explained. “My dad raced a little bit himself. I think he got his first car when he was 16 and kind of tried to do it on his own and race as much as he could. He never really could afford to do it very well. He raced himself, off and on, through the years.”
Once Santos and his sister, Erica, began racing, their father stepped away from driving to help them as they embarked on their respective racing careers.
“He kind of quit so me and my sister, Erica, could race quarter midgets,” Santos recalled. “That’s kind of where it took off for me. My parents dedicated a lot of time through the years to take us racing. We raced quarter midgets from 1990 up until ’98. That’s really where it began.”
Santos has made a name and a career for himself as a journeyman short tracker, but that wasn’t always the plan. After a stint racing supermodifieds, modifieds and midgets in the Northeast, Santos ventured to the Midwest to compete with the United States Auto Club. It was there he began to catch the attention of the racing world.
“I pretty much raced all around New England from when I was 13 to when I was 17 between open modified races, ISMA supermodified racing and NEMA midget racing,” Santos recalled. “I drove for Bobby Seymour from the Northeast in the NEMA midgets. The Seymour name, because of his father Boston Louie, was very well known in the USAC world.
“It was just a popular path for young racers and Bobby suggested it for us,” Santos said. “It’s kind of crazy, my first USAC midget start was actually at Phoenix on the mile in I think it was 2003 or ’04. It kind of just took off from there.”
Santos spent the next few years racing mostly in USAC, consistently running at the front and winning races. In 2006, he began catching the attention a few people in NASCAR and by the end of the year Santos had made his ARCA Racing Series debut driving for Bill Davis.
“That was kind of through Tommy Baldwin, who worked there at the time,” Santos explained. “He gave me the opportunity.”
The next season saw Santos make seven ARCA starts in addition to four NASCAR Xfinity Series appearances for Davis. The results weren’t great, with Santos earning a best finish of third in ARCA and 30th in the Xfinity Series.
When the economy failed the following year, Santos said he lost any shot he had of returning to NASCAR’s big stage because he didn’t have any funding behind him. Without bringing money, there was simply no opportunity.
“Looking back on it, it was just a small amount of races that I got the opportunity to do,” Santos said. “We were with a small team that didn’t really have the funding and the focus. Obviously, that was 2007, right when the economy went bad. Honestly, I just had bad timing on that.
“Of the four or five Xfinity Series starts I made, I qualified in the top five at New Hampshire and top 10 at Richmond, and both times we were running in the top five or top 10 when I had disappointing stuff happen to ruin good finishes that we should have had.
“In my personal opinion, it was a little harder then than it is now because I was racing against 24 or 25 Cup guys,” he added. “Now you really don’t see that. If you look at the results when I ran New Hampshire that year, I think I was the only non-Cup regular to qualify in the top 20. The little bit that I did do I think I did well, I just honestly don’t feel like I got a fair shake at it. But that’s my opinion.”