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Bobby Santos scores big on Turkey Night

68th Annual Turkey Night Grand Prix
Friday, November 28, 2008


Bobby Santos
USAC racing veteran Bobby Santos III passed Indy 500 veteran Davey Hamilton with 8 laps to go take the 98 lap USAC MOPAR National/Western Midget Championship Series main event, November 27th, at the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale. This race was part of the southern California based half mile speedway's 68th Annual Turkey Night Grand Prix presented by Agajanian Promotions. The 98 laps for this race was in honor of famed open wheel promoter and team owner J C Agajanian who used the number 98 on his cars for many years

34 starters took the initial green flag but the field barely made a lap before the first caution flag of the race presented itself due to a front stretch spin. Bobby East, who started on the outside of the first row was credited for leading the first four laps under caution. But once the race returned to the green flag Zach Schiff made quick work of passing for the lead and paced the field for another three circuits before Jason Leffler passed for the lead coming out of turn two.

Leffler, an open wheel veteran as well a current full time driver in NASCAR's Nationwide Series, appeared to be completely formidable in his Team ASE-Great Clips-Leffler Racing Toyota. With the exception of two caution flags, that allowed the field to gather behind them, the Long Beach-California driver had no problem maintaining a fairly comfortable lead and paced the field all the way to lap 55 before a hard charging Hamilton took advantage of a caution flag to catch and pass the race leader.

Hamilton, behind the wheel of his Rev 1 Racing-Rev 1 Power Services-A.R.T Ford, became strong at this point in the race and it appeared that he was going to be the big winner of the Turkey Night Grand Prix. But Santos was biding his time lurking in the top five and began his charge to the front. The Franklin-Massachusetts native, in his Western Speed Racing-K&N Filters Toyota, passed Leffler to take second on lap 86. Four half mile circuits later he produced his race winning move and took the lead for good on lap 90.

Santos made quick work of pulling away from the field and even faster work of running out the final eight laps of the race. He passed under the checkers with Hamilton behind him. Darren Hagen, Ryan Kaplan and Leffler completed the top five.

In victory lane Santos conceded that patience was a major key to the 98 lap feature. With a big smile on his face, he said "this is my favorite race. I look forward to this race more than anyone that we run all year. We were kind of disappointed with our effort in the race last year but this definitely makes up for it. My guys work very hard. They're just unbelievable. Like I said this is one race that I wanted  to win more than anything in the world, I'm so very happy."

This race had a long list of honors attached to it. First off the Santos victory secured the prestigious Toyota Challenge Championship for his team owner: Western Speed Racing based out of Fresno-California. It was also a huge night for Huntington Beach-California's Nick Faas in more ways than one. He only finished 13th in the race but that finish was more than good enough to earn him the 2008 USAC Western Midget Series championship as well as the Don Basile Rookie of the year title.

But true focal point of this race was the final resolution of the USAC National Midget Series championship between veteran Tracy Hines and young rookie Cole Whitt who came to the Turkey Night Grand Prix only 17 points apart. When the 98 lap feature was over Whitt took the title by a single point. "I'm just literally speechless, it was my team that made all of this happen," he said. At age 17 the Alpine-California driver is now in the record books as the youngest series champion in USAC history.

Despite showing a great deal of class by congratulating the new champion, Tracy Hines was understandably disappointed. He arrived in southern California on Thanksgiving Night with a better than good chance of winning the very prestigious, but very hard to achieve, Triple Crown. Hines had already wrapped up the championships for  USAC's Silver Crown and National Sprint Car Series. If he could have won this third title then he would have been able to join the elite ranks of former Triple Crown winners that includes Tony Stewart, J J Yeley, Pancho Carter and Jerry Coons Jr.     


Tracy Hines passed Ryan Kaplan on the fifth lap to win the 40 lap feature for the USAC Western Sprint Car Series. Kaplan went on to finish second while Cole Whitt, Jo Jo Helberg and Nick Green completed the top five.

This race was brought to a red flag halt on lap four due to the worst incident of the entire evening. Cars driven by John Sarale, Kenny Hamilton and Porter Smith collided on the front stretch which caused the Sarale car to land on its roof. There were no driver injuries but the same could not be said for the trio of race cars.

Tanner Swanson finished eighth in this race and that finish was good enough to earn the Kingsburg-California driver the series championship for his TK Motorsports team.


Tucson-Arizona's Alex Bowman capped off his 2008 season by winning the 40 lap USAC Ford Focus Series feature Thanksgiving night on the Toyota Speedway's one third mile oval. Charles Maier led the first 11 laps, before Bowman made his race winning move, and had to settle for second. Ian Millie, Garrett Peterson and Michael J Lewis completed the top five.

Bowman scored his 11th series win of the season which is a USAC season high. His latest win also garnered him the USAC Ford Focus Series national championship. After parking his Specialty Racing-Haas CNC Beast Ford Focus in victory lane, Bowman thanked his team especially his Dad. He also noted that this was the first race for a newly constructed car which has already been sold and will be available as a rental racer next year. Regarding his plans for 2009, Bowman said "whether or not we run the full series schedule will depend on finding sponsorship"

This race also crowned a series regional champion as well. Ian Millie's third place finish was more than enough to earn him the 2008 Ford Focus California Pavement Series championship.

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