For Sully: Racing Plans For Tinio Motorsports Remain On Track After Passing Of Family Patriarch

Bobby Santos III (left) and Sully Tinio (right) following a Whelen Modified Tour victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2017 (Photo: Michael Ivins/NASCAR)

For well over a year amongst the Tinio family the talks of bringing their Tour Type Modified team back to competition had kept coming up. 

Those conversations got put to side when team owner Sully Tinio was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2020, but following a strong four months of treatments and a positive meeting with his doctor in early January, Tinio made the call. 

“We had been talking about it for a while,” said Lawney Tinio, Sully Tinio’s son. “And then it was after one of the meetings with his doctor when they said that everything was getting better, he looked at my brother and said ‘Looks like we’re going back racing.’ That kind of sealed it. We were tossing the idea around, but only if he was feeling well. Once he got good test results from the doctors we were ready to go.” 

The team will stay with the directive of “We’re going back racing” set forth by the team owner in January, but they will return to the track without the man who became an instant favorite among those who populate the Whelen Modified Tour garage over seven years that the team competed with the series. 

Salvatore “Sully” Tinio passed away unexpectedly on March 13 at 72 years old.

Tinio Motorsports expects to compete in about nine Tour Type Modified events in 2021, starting with the Icebreaker 125 at Thompson Speedway on April 11. 

“I’m sure in my own way, maybe when I’m up inside the hauler by myself, I may have a little bit of an emotional breakdown,” Lawney Tinio said of returning to competition without his father.

Bobby Santos III, who competed for the team on the Whelen Modified Tour from 2012 to 2018, will return to pilot the Tinio Motorsports Modified. 

“I wouldn’t want to do it without Bobby,” Lawney Tinio said. “I don’t think any of us would want that. It’s not just a guy driving our race car. It’s a friendship, family thing. We became very close over the years of racing. … I wouldn’t want to continue without Bobby. He is such a big piece of it for us.” 

Under his ownership, Tinio Motorsports grew from a Late Model team competing at Thompson Speedway to a winning organization on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. And it wasn’t just the winning on the track that got Tinio Motorsports and its owner noticed. Sully Tinio’s gregarious personality quickly made him one of the most respected and popular teams owners at the track. 

Lawney Tinio said his father’s larger than life image among those around the Whelen Modified Tour wasn’t something he quite picked up on while living through those days. 

“I feel like, things that I’ve noticed in the past couple weeks from the outpouring folks that have reached out, you know when you’re living it you don’t realize it,” Lawney Tinio said. “You just think this is every day, this is what you do, this is how it is. As my dad made an impact on that garage, to us it was just making new friends, getting to know the people that we’ve met through racing. … I felt that the impact was on us, but you also see the impact that was made by dad on other people, but I never realized it so much as an impact on us too. We were just there to have a good time and we did that because of him.” 

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 Tinio’s son Damon driving a Late Model at Thompson Speedway a little more than a decade ago.

Before the 2011 season the family purchased a Tour Type Modified and fielded the car in three events on the Whelen Modified Tour with driver Rick Gentes with a best finish that year of 18th. 

Before the 2012 season the team connected with Santos to run a part-time schedule on the Whelen Modified Tour, beginning a meteoric rise to becoming one of the powerhouse teams in the division. 

The team ran nine of 14 events in 2012 with Santos getting Tinio Motorsports its first Whelen Modified Tour win in their eighth start together in the Fall Final at Stafford Speedway. Santos went on to win the World Series at Thompson Speedway weeks later to sweep the final two events on the Whelen Modified Tour schedule that year. 

Santos got another two wins for the team in 2013 at Stafford and Thompson again. In 2014 the team ran all 13 events on the Whelen Modified Tour with Santos getting three more wins, including victories at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the New London-Waterford Speedbowl and Stafford. Santos ended up finishing sixth in the series standings that year. 

In 2017 Santos swept both Whelen Modified Tour events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Tinio Motorsports. The team’s last Whelen Modified Tour victory came in July 2018 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

Over seven seasons with Santos driving for them from 2012-2018, Tinio Motorsports made 82 Whelen Modified Tour starts and recorded 11 victories, including four wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and three each at Thompson and Stafford. Santos also won the exhibition Whelen All-Star Shootout in Loudon in July 2016 for Tinio Motorsports. The team shut down following the 2018 season. 

Lawney Tinio said demands running the family businesses led to the team shutting down. But when Thompson Speedway promoters Cris Michaud and Tom Mayberry announced they would run a six-event Tour Type Modified schedule in 2021, it piqued the interest of the Tinio family.  

“That definitely made it an easier decision to at least start talking about doing it again,” Lawney Tinio said. … Just being in our backyard, it was something that made us want to do it because it was a plan that worked for us.” 

Lawney Tinio said the team plans to run all six events at Thompson Speedway. The team will also run the 50-lap Tour Type Modified event at the Northeast Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on April 17. Lawney Tinio said they also hope to run a couple Whelen Modified Tour events, with their eyes set on the Whelen 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17. 

Danny Gamache Jr. will serve as crew chief for the team in 2021. Gamache posted a heartfelt goodbye to Sully Tinio on Facebook on March 16. 

“I am doing things I have dreamed of my whole life,” Gamache said in the post. “I have worked with the best driver in the country and got to learn so much from some awesome crew chiefs over the years. I went from a guy just working on the car to car chief and now crew chief and I have this man to thank for it. He showed me show much not just in the shop but even in life in general. I could go on and on about this man and the impression he made in my life. I am going to miss him so much … my heart is broken. We won a lot of races thanks to him and we will go on and win more races in honor of him.” 


  1. Fast Eddie says

    Mixed emotions on this one. Sad to know their season will be “in memory of instead” of with Sully Tinio. However, glad to hear that they will still run this year. There first win this year (and there WILL be one!) will be an incredible tribute to the man who built this team! It will also be great to see Bobby Santos driving multiple times this year as well, a huge addition to any field he runs in.

  2. Fast Ed, agree with you 100%.

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