SBRS: Living the Life of Damian Della-Santina

Once upon a time an old lady living on a farm in the Irish countryside had a dog named Riley. Riley ate well, and spent his days roaming about the lush green fields between long napping sessions, each day passing without a care. The lady worked...

Once upon a time an old lady living on a farm in the Irish countryside had a dog named Riley. Riley ate well, and spent his days roaming about the lush green fields between long napping sessions, each day passing without a care. The lady worked hard on her farm, and was rewarded well with the bounty it produced. Once a neighbor commented on how nice the lady’s life was to which she replied, “Yes, but I’m hardly living the life of Riley.” And so a phrase was coined.

Damian Della-Santina’s life may just rival that of Riley’s, at least in some people’s eyes. How many among us can say that they are fortunate enough to devote the majority of their time to the two passions that compel them most. Della-Santina does just that, yet unlike Riley, he works very hard at it. When he’s not competing in the Formula Dodge National Championship Presented by RACER, he’s working as a cameraman for the NBC thriller Profiler.

Della-Santina got hooked on racing from an early age, largely the result of his father’s influence. He saw his first auto race in Southern California at the now defunct Riverside Raceway when he was about 10-years old. At 16 he got a 1970 Mustang, added a few tricks to it and truly discovered a lust for speed. After graduating from college, he hoped to take a Skip Barber Three Day Racing School just for the experience, What he got was beyond his expectations.

“Dad showed up one day with a 100cc shifter kart,” Della Santina recalled. “We started doing some club racing up in Santa Maria, Calif. I always wanted to race, I always enjoyed it. Dad watched a lot of racing, it was a priority in the house.”

The priority soon went from the house out onto the racetrack. In his first season of karting in 1996, Della-Santina finished third in the KT 100 Lite division. The following two years culminated with a championship win to his credit in the very same class.

1999 saw him graduate from his Skip Barber Three Day Racing School a few years later than he envisioned, but it was worth the wait. The same year he entered in the Formula Dodge Western Regional Championship and won a race in his third try at Laguna Seca. In 2000, there were seven top-3 finishes, multiple poles as well as fastest race laps. That was enough to warrant an invitation to the inaugural season in the Formula Dodge National Championship Presented by RACER.

Two weekends into the season, and he has proven worthy of his invitation. The first two rounds at Grattan yielded a pole and two top-10 finishes. Not what he had hoped for, but he remained resolute. The following two rounds came at New Hampshire International Speedway, a track that caught out many of his fellow competitors. Della-Santina started the first race on the pole, and never was to surrender the top spot.

“I don’t even know if the win has totally set in yet, “ he said two weeks later. “Knowing what was behind me in Bryan Sellers and Craig Duerson, I knew at the start that I’d have my work cut out for me. The key was that I got a good start, and soon after I got that tunnel vision, without losing any of the awareness. When I got on the front straight after that last turn, there was no way I couldn’t smile, knowing that I did it from start to finish, knowing that I did it right.”

The following day he finished round four in fifth place, after a bad qualifying session that saw him start ninth. He drove the same car that he had put on pole the day prior, but knew it didn’t have it that second day. Come race time, he exhibited the methodic nature reserved for some of the sport’s greats. He identified the car’s problem, relayed it the crew chief who set things right come race time. Making the most of a bad situation, he left the weekend with 53 points in hand, fourth overall.

At the moment something will have to give for Della-Santina.  Will it be racing, or
television?  Both are rigorous trades that demand a great deal of time and dedication

“I think that if I want to pursue racing, and be successful at it, which of the two passions in my life is the one that is the most important to me, I am going to have to leave one behind,” he states. “I’ve got an “A” and a “B” plan, but I’m confident in my racing ability and I know the TV industry will always be there.”

So what does this aficionado of both the track and screen believe to be the best racing film of all?

“I’m going to go for the classic and say ‘Grand Prix’,” he concludes. “For what it was, I think it was so big and exciting. As to whether it was true to life, I’m sure that it is debatable.”

What is true to life is that Della-Santina is very much a young man with a plan. Is a Barber Dodge Pro Series “Big Scholarship” in the offing.? Right now it’s just one race at a time, he says with a smile.

-George Tamayo

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About this article
Series Other open wheel
Drivers Skip Barber , Craig Duerson , Bryan Sellers