By RICHIE MURRAY
When Kody Swanson lines up on the grid for this year’s 63rd running of the “Hoosier Hundred” at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, a record once thought untouchable will be just within his grasp.
In September of 1973, Al Unser and the Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing team captured its fourth consecutive victory in the annual race at the Indy Mile – the only occasion of a driver winning four straight events at one of the three traditional dirt miles the USAC Silver Crown Champ Cars annually compete on.
On Thursday night, May 25, Swanson and the DePalma Motorsports team have an opportunity to join that exclusive club exemplified by brilliant dominance, especially in this modern era in which the equipment and speed throughout the field are so equal. In fact, Kody has accomplished the three-peat feat in the very same car during his wins in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Regardless of the car or the situation, the versatile 29-year-old Kingsburg, California native is a quick study. The high school valedictorian and engineer by trade had what he estimates to be the best week of his career last May by winning three out of four races in four straight days on four different tracks in four different types of cars.
Swanson followed up his third-straight Hoosier Hundred win with a second-place run behind his brother Tanner in the Carb Night Classic Silver Crown race at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. One night later, Swanson claimed the largest payday of his career, spinning and winning at the Little 500 Sprint Car event at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway. For his encore performance on Sunday, he proceeded to Fremont, Ohio and collected a BOSS Sprint Car win.
With performances as such, one might believe Swanson would be riding high on a wave of confidence coming into this year’s “Week of Indy.” Yet, Swanson remains grounded, humble and as hungry as he ever, never letting his laundry list of accomplishments in recent years cloud his mind when he believes he still has much to prove to others and to himself.
“I don’t know that having won three in a row is really a factor in feeling confidence or pressure for me,” Swanson believes. “I always feel pressure to perform in Silver Crown races and I don’t exactly overflow with confidence anyway. I do think that when we go to the track, we’ve got a chance to win. That’s about all you can ask for.”
On paper, it appears each of the last three Hoosier Hundred races have played out in a similar manner. In 2014, Swanson overtook Bobby East on lap 78 of the 100-lapper. In 2015, Swanson passed A.J. Fike on lap 68 en route to victory and, last year, it was a single lap sooner on circuit 67 when he made his way past Shane Cottle to take the point and the eventual victory.
From the outside, one would believe Swanson has a tried-and-true plan of attack that he adheres to – managing his tires and biding his time for the first three-quarters of the 100-miler, then striking like a viper in the night during the final quarter before driving away to another victory. Swanson sees it differently, however, as a race of opportunity.
“Each race has played out a little differently and I have tried to just keep working my way to the front,” Swanson explains. “Opportunities are hard to come by in these races, so you’ve got to take them when you get the chance.”
For three years running, Swanson hasn’t missed many opportunities at the Hoosier Hundred. Though the lap number when Swanson gets to the front of the field may vary from one race to another, one cannot deny that he puts himself in position to win due to his analytical, detail-oriented approach to the 100-lappers.
Nonetheless, one essential element that must not be forgotten is the team that surrounds him. The DePalma Motorsports team and legendary crew chief Bob Hampshire had to be talked into running for a title by Swanson just three years ago. Three owners’ championships later, the Lima, Ohio based team has certainly reaped the rewards of teaming up with Swanson, who has earned 12 of his 15 career series wins for the DePalmas to climb the charts to a tie for fourth on the series’ all-time list with J.J. Yeley.
As car counts have continually risen and the competition grown tougher, Swanson’s level of success has been unwavering, a true testament to how the team has answered most every challenge they’ve faced. A field with drivers such as Chris Windom – the defending series champ out of Canton, Illinois who’s won the last four dirt races in the series – as well as Fike, Cottle, Brian Tyler, Jerry Coons, Jr., Jeff Swindell, Dave Darland, Brady Bacon, Shane Cockrum, Justin Grant – the list goes on and on – makes the task of winning a fourth-straight Hoosier Hundred a daunting task.
Forty-four years have passed since Unser’s authoritative clutch on the competition at the fairgrounds dirt oval. In 2017, a new generation of race fans and observers could very well be firsthand eyewitnesses to history. Many will harken to the glory days of yesteryear by recalling Unser and his run of domination on the Indy Mile as the decade of the 1970s emerged. Perhaps 44 years from today, in 2061, the era of Kody Swanson at the Hoosier Hundred will be recalled just as fondly. For now, though, we can just enjoy the excellence of Swanson in the glory days of the present. It’s something of which we are all fortunate to witness.
Nearly 40 drivers are entered for Thursday’s event, the largest anticipated car count for the race since 2005 and you can get in on the action with a special discount price. USAC and Track Enterprises have teamed up to present a Superticket for admission to three of its upcoming marquee events – the “Tony Hulman Classic,” the “Hoosier Hundred” and the “Carb Night Classic” on May 24-25-26 – leading up to the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.
The three-straight nights of racing in Indiana present open wheel racing at its finest from the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship as well as the USAC Silver Crown Champ Cars Series presented by TRAXXAS on both dirt and pavement.
Fans will receive a savings of $20 by purchasing their own Week of Indy Superticket that’s good for admission to Terre Haute, the Indiana State Fairgrounds and Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24-25-26. To purchase a Superticket, visit https://usacracing.ticketspice.com/2017-week-of-indy or call the Track Enterprises office at 217-764-3200.
As always, individual tickets for each “Week of Indy” event will be available at regular price on race day at the gate.
Gates open at 4pm while hot laps get underway at 5pm and ProSource Qualifying begins at 6pm.
The Hoosier Hundred will be available LIVE on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/. Next day, flag-to-flag coverage will be available on-demand at http://www.Loudpedal.TV/.nser