Story By: PAUL LAMBERT / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – You could call 2020 a year of redemption for Dave Sapienza.
In 2019, Sapienza suffered a serious back injury in a last lap crash at Wall Stadium last May and was forced to sit out 10 races while he recovered.
While he did get his first Tour victory as an owner when Bobby Santos drove his car to a Musket 250 win, it was still bittersweet for Sapienza to miss out on a full-time effort.
He returned with a vengeance in 2020. Sapienza ran all nine races on the 2020 Tour schedule, and had arguably his best season yet. He set career-highs both for average starting and finishing positions and scored four top-10s, after just one in six starts in 2019. The highlight of 2020 for Sapienza was an impressive second-place effort in the fourth race of the season at Jennerstown, driving a car he called “the best I’ve ever driven in my career,” where he came oh-so-close to that first Tour victory as a driver.
As an owner, Sapienza once again brought Santos aboard at New Hampshire, where the 2010 Tour champion went to Victory Lane for the second straight year.
Perhaps the biggest factor in Sapienza’s improvement as a driver comes in his ability to get the car to the end of the race. 2020 saw Sapienza fail to finish only one race, the first time in his career he’s been able to avoid multiple DNFs. More recently, Sapienza has made it a priority to be more patient behind the wheel, working more methodically. Thanks to help from Santos, Sapienza’s efforts are paying dividends.
“I bounce things off Bobby, because to me, he’s invincible,” Sapienza said. “I don’t want to be known as ‘that guy,’ or a hack… I don’t want to lose a friendship over racing.”
Sapienza thought back to that second-place run at Jennerstown, when he had the opportunity to send eventual race winner Craig Lutz up the track late in the going, but chose not to. Even though he lost the race, Sapienza earned plenty of respect from a lot of people throughout the Modified community.
“A lot of people called me and said: ‘you probably could’ve dumped him or moved him,’ and you’ll gain a lot more respect,” Sapienza said.
As the calendar turns to 2021, Sapienza sees more improvement on the horizon for the No. 36 team. Throughout the offseason he’s already put plenty of stock in improving his equipment, having bought a new LFR car from Rob Fuller.
“It’s probably going to be the highlight of my life this year,” Sapienza said.
And when the Tour goes to a track where there isn’t a notebook for teams to work off of, Sapienza typically does well. Of the five events the Tour held in 2020 that were not on the planned schedule, Sapienza finished inside the top-15 in each of them. There are four events on the 2021 schedule that much of the Tour field has never raced at, at least not for many years. That has Sapienza excited, too.
“I like going in uncharted waters,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, but I just seem to gel. That’s happened to us numerous times.”
At 55, Sapienza knows he won’t be on the Tour forever. But he hopes that in the years he has left, the best of his career is yet to come. Getting a Whelen Modified Tour victory is at the absolute top of his bucket list as a racer.
“The Tour is such a prestigious series. You’ve had hundreds and hundreds of drivers over the years try to get a win, or even a top-three or a top-five. I’ve been close. My goal would definitely be a win before I retire.
“If I don’t win, that will kill me. I’ll beat myself to death thinking about that every day for the rest of my life.”