By Richie Murray – USAC Media
SPEEDWAY, IN-There’s no doubt about it. Jake Swanson finished last season as one of the hottest drivers on the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship tour.
Now, the Anaheim, Calif. native aims to carry his substantial momentum into 2023 as he goes full-time with the series in the driver’s seat of Team AZ Racing’s No. 21AZ.
After a tumultuous up-and-down start to his 2022 USAC campaign, the 29-year-old Swanson poured it on late, finishing five of his last seven feature starts on the podium, highlighted by a Western World Championships sweep at Arizona’s Cocopah Speedway.
It was quite a run for the 2017 USAC West Coast Sprint Car champion and two-time USAC National Sprint Car feature winner who now resides in Danville, Ind. In fact, it was a roll he hoped didn’t have to stop. Yet, as the calendar flips to a new year, he has no intentions of letting the roll stop anytime soon.
“Honestly, I wish there was no offseason,” Swanson chuckled. “But in reality, there kind of wasn’t. We’ve been working the entire time because we’ve got so much to do. We’re rebuilding everything, and we want to make sure it’s exactly as we ended the season last year. We’ve always been really good at taking notes, but we’re being even more meticulous and splitting hairs with where we landed on shock numbers and measurements on the racecar. We want to make sure we don’t get lost because I feel like it’s easy over the offseason to put new parts on the car, do this or that, and you don’t think it’s going to change very much, then it changes your whole recipe. We’re trying really hard not to make those mistakes.”
Swanson’s turnaround during the 2022 USAC season can’t be understated. Throughout his first 20 starts, he’d not cracked the top-three a single time. Incidentally, it was an accident during July’s Indiana Sprint Week round at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway and a brief hospital stay which set forth a second act that was among the best stretches any driver in the series put together throughout the year. That said, it was a multitude of items which put Swanson right back into contention.
“It’s really hard to pinpoint exactly one thing,” Swanson explained. “There’s probably five things that we changed over the course of the summer months going into the end of the fall where we really found something. We’ve always done these things but maybe not in the same order. The recipe was just a little off and it didn’t work with the balance of other things.”
A fellow competitor who found a flurry of late season success was Kyle Cummins and Rock Steady Racing, a driver and program that were sensational from the summer months onward in 2022. Swanson took further notes from Cummins’ success and applied it to their own venture.
“There’s a number of things we did to the car to make it rotate on entry,” Swanson began. “We studied a lot of fast cars, and Kyle Cummins was really good there at the end and we tried to emulate that. I think we came across it the last couple months of the year and got it fine-tuned. It’s easy to make the car do that, but it’s hard to make the car flow and not have it do other things that you don’t want it to do. Another huge factor was the engines. We’ve got really good 1 Way Technologies engines and they massaged on some stuff in the latter half of the year. Engine detuning is something we’ve never had to do out west, then we came here, and it was a rude awakening between tightening the car up, but not too much, and tightening up the engine as well.”
Prior to the 2021 season, Swanson officially made the move to uproot from his native California and chase USAC National Sprint Cars and the local Indiana sprint car scene where he was an eight-time winner in 2022, ranking second behind only Cummins’ nine. Swanson has continuously been a student, learning the tricks of the trade of mastering the ability to go even faster, namely in terms of chassis dynoing, shocks and torsion bars, just to name a few, while fine-tuning his craft over time. But the main ingredient has been seat time, and Swanson has found that to be the most pivotal classroom of all.
“It’s amazing the amount of repetitions you get,” Swanson noted. “Last year, I think I raced 74 times. When you race that much, you can really get a feel for exactly what you’re looking for and what you want. When you race once or twice a month like I did in the past, you’re always rusty and you can’t ever really make gains. That’s why I learned to take such meticulous notes because, back then, every time I went to a racetrack, it felt like starting over.”
Now, the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship starts over from scratch with a slate that begins with a full week of work in his Apache Transport, USW Cat Construction, Stratis Construction, RSS Industries, Beaver Stripes, Fine Line Drafting machine in Florida during the month of February, starting with a pair of non-points, special events at Volusia Speedway Park on February 13-14, followed by the first three points races of the year at Bubba Raceway Park on February 16-17-18.