Speeding To The Front: Meteoric Rise For Tinio Motorsports With NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour

Bobby Santos III celebrates his second consecutive Spring Sizzler victory for Tinio Motorsports in April at Stafford Motor Speedway (Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Bobby Santos III celebrates his second consecutive Spring Sizzler victory for Tinio Motorsports in April at Stafford Motor Speedway (Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images for NASCAR)

When Tinio Motosports team manager Lawney Tinio talks about his family’s arrival to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and says “we had no idea what we were doing” it isn’t any sort of cliché he’s spouting.

It’s the literal truth.

With Bobby Santos III behind the wheel of their car, the Tinio Motorsports team has gone from upstart newcomers to championship contenders in about three years of existence.

And to think, what landed them in the place of crafting such a meteoric rise was almost accidental.

After a few years of campaigning in the Late Model division at Thompson Speedway, the Mendon, Mass. based Tinio Motorsports team and team owner Sully Tinio were ready to make the leap to racing a Modified.

“My father liked the Modifieds and he said ‘I want to buy one of those.’” Lawney Tinio said. “We ended up buying Bobby’s car from his dad.

“But we thought we bought an SK [Modified]. We got it back to the garage and my father said ‘Can we get this ready for Thursday [to race in the weekly SK Modified division] at Thompson. And it came down to someone with us saying ‘No, this is a [Modified] Tour car.’”

And so was born the Tinio Motorsports Whelen Modified Tour team. The same team that now sits 34 points behind the series leader with three events remaining this year.

“I look back and take a look and things and think this is amazing what we’re doing because I do know what it takes to get it done,” Lawney Tinio said. “You watch other teams that have been doing this for a million years and they struggle. We’re lucky I think for the most part. We have a very good team. Steve Lemay is an outstanding crew chief. He works day and night on the cars and is constantly trying to give us a little bit extra edge without trying to reinvent the wheel. My father is a very competitive person. He wants to win every race. He wants to win practice, qualifying and every race. Which just isn’t feasible. We’ve been lucky enough to have that happen a couple times. But I definitely understand that this isn’t normal. I think the entire team understands that.

“We’re definitely enjoying it because you never know when you’re going to get your next win so we try to savor as much as we can as they happen. To be in contention for the championship is outstanding and not something you expect from year to year, especially with it being our first full year. It is outstanding. But it’s humbling because we know next year we could be 15th all season.”

Sully Tinio had been involved in racing at the old Westborough (Mass.) Speedway in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. The family returned to racing with son Damon driving the family’s Late Model at Thompson.

After purchasing their Modified Tour car from the Santos family, Tinio Motorsports fielded the ride in three Modified Tour events in 2011 at Thompson International Speedway for driver Rick Gentes, with a best finish of 18th.

“We didn’t know what kind of animal we were getting into at the time,” Lawney Tinio said. “Ricky had a million laps at Thompson and we were pretty much together at the track every Thursday night. We had no idea what we were doing. We went out there and rode around the back. Over the winter my father said ‘These are the changes we’re going to make.’ And we all agreed.”

The team decided they were going to make the effort to run for wins. And that included bringing Lemay on as crew chief and getting Santos to drive their car.

Santos had won the 2010 Whelen Modified Tour championship driving for team owner Bob Garbarino, but parted ways with that team after the 2011 season.

“Hiring Steve LeMay to come crew chief the car was probably the best thing they could have done,” Santos said. “They got a guy that was an experienced racer. He didn’t necessarily have the [Whelen Modified] Tour experience, but he was a racer and he was very smart with what he did and what he does. I think that was a key factor to why we’ve had so much success.”

Said Lemay: “I knew when I met these guys that if I could put the right people together – with Sully being a car owner that will give you what you need to get the job done – I knew it could work. If you put the right people together you can win races. Is it possible to win championships? It’s possible, but you’ve got to have a lot of luck to go with it. You can have the best of everything and have no luck.

“All in all the team came together pretty quick and it kind of clicked and one race led to another race and here we are three seasons deep.”

The team ran nine of 14 series events in 2012 with Santos winning the final two events of the year, the Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway and the World Series at Thompson.

In 2013 Santos ran 12 of 14 series events for the team, picking up two wins, one each at Stafford and Thompson, and getting top-five finishes in seven events.

This year saw Santos win the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler for the second consecutive year at Stafford. He also won the Mr. Rooter 161 at the Waterford Speedbowl on June 21. And then came the big one on July 12 when Santos won the Sunoco 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“Winning the Spring Sizzler two years in a row was big, but winning at Loudon, that was a whole new level for me,” Lemay said. “I’d never won there. I only have under my belt, five races at Loudon. To have won Loudon only being there five times and the team only being there five times, it’s a big deal. You dream of winning those races, to have it happen is another thing.”

Santos said he believes the team arriving with little history within the division and having the attitude of doing it for fun has been a huge factor in the quick success they’ve achieved as a group.

“It just kind of defines the way they are, and maybe that’s part of the reason why they’ve been so successful, which kind of sounds funny,” Santos said. “It’s that Sully has had the approach all along that he’s doing it because he’s having a good time and he’s enjoying it. A lot of people say that, but how many people do you actually believe that from? With Sully you truly honestly believe that they’re doing it because they enjoy it.

“I think sometimes for them, the not knowing about the Tour and how things go, I think that’s been a blessing that they had as a team. They came in with such an open mind into the series. It’s kind of a breath of fresh air to the series. On good nights or bad nights they always thank the officials and they’re always happy and they really enjoy being there. That is a huge part of the success. He didn’t even know what he bought when he got it. He just wanted to go racing and have a good time and that’s how they treat it.”

With three races remaining nobody within the team is discounting the chances of the organization celebrating a Whelen Modified Tour championship when the checkered flag falls on the division’s final race on Oct. 19 at Thompson Speedway.

Doug Coby currently leads Justin Bonsignore by four points in the standings with Ted Christopher third in the standings, 33 points behind Coby and one point ahead of Santos.

“There’s still three races and the next three races are tracks that Bobby, Justin and Doug excel at,” Lawney Tinio said. “Those guys need to have a big hiccup in order for us to be in contention to grab that lead spot. We’ve had a few hiccups this year. … Those guys have been super consistent and that’s what’s got them so far ahead of us in the points. But anything can happen.”

Said Santos: “I’m not giving up. I know Steve isn’t giving up and the team isn’t giving up. We’ve talked about it. We all know what the situation is. We’re going to the last three races to win. We’ve got nothing to lose whatsoever. To me, what’s the difference between finishing second in points or sixth in points? I really don’t care. So we’re going to these last three races to win. There’s a lot of pressure on Doug and Justin. I think both of them look at it that if they have three good weeks they’re probably going to win it, either or. But that’s not really the case for us. The case for us is that we need to have the best three weeks we can and hope to get a little bit of help and it is what it is. We’re not giving up. We’ve won at all three of the tracks and there’s no reason that we can’t get a win at possibly all three of them. That’s what the goal is.”

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  1. A few years ago while driving the 00 at Thompson, Ted Christopher said it was either him or the crew chief that was going to quit. The owner of the 00 decided to keep the crew chief, so TC left and Woody took over the ride. That crew chief was Steve Lemay… One can only imagine what Steve and TC could have accomplished together with a little more patience as most observers would say that Santos and Pitkat have had a more impressive record since that time.

  2. Great article
    Sully and his boys are the nicest people in the world and would do anything for anybody. Stevie’s the man and Bobby could wheel a wheel barrel with all them together they could be this years champion!

  3. Linda (Larson) Kyne says

    Congrats to you Sully and your whole team. I haven’t been to a race since I went to Westboro Speedway back in the day! Reading the article above makes me want to go again and hopefully your car and driver will be there and also be first at the finish line. The best to all of you!!! 🙂

  4. Great article, Super TEAM! Cheering you on for the Championship

  5. Blast from the past.

  6. Fast Eddie says

    Thanks Dareal! That was cool to read again!

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