By RICHIE MURRAY
BROWNSBURG, IN – Lately, it seems every victory Kody Swanson captures sets a new standard in the USAC Silver Crown record book.
Friday night’s “Carb Night Classic” at Lucas Oil Raceway was no exception as the Californian led all 100 laps from the pole to surpass J.J. Yeley and join the late, great Dave Steele for third on the all-time series win list with his 16th career triumph.
For a time in the late 1990s, there was no greater dominator in USAC competition at LOR (then known as Indianapolis Raceway Park) than the late Steele, the two-time Silver Crown champion who passed away this past March after a sprint car crash at Desoto Speedway in Bradenton, Fla.
Currently, we are in the midst of the Swanson era at the .686-mile paved oval located west of Indianapolis where Kody and his younger brother, Tanner, have combined for five-straight, and seven of the past eight, Silver Crown wins. Though Tanner won the first five of those, Kody had the upper hand in the last two in his DePalma Motorsports/Radio Hospital – Hampshire Racing Engines/Beast/Hampshire.
Kody appreciates each and every win that he’s fortunate to earn in his career, but Friday’s victory gave him pause in his victory lane speech as the significance of placing his name alongside Steele’s in the record book has deeply personal meaning.
“Dave Steele was someone that I really considered a friend, and someone I looked up to as a driver,” Kody explained. “I was so saddened by his passing and for his family. To join him is an honor; he was incredible behind the wheel and in this series.”
Kody started on the pole of the 100-lap event after recording ProSource Fast Qualifying time as the last car to hit the track in time trials. Right from the outset, it was the three LOR dominators of the decade running one-two-three with Kody Swanson, Tanner Swanson and Bobby Santos – winners of nine of the past 10 at the track – leading the way.
The trifecta was the class of the field as they seceded from the pack, holding a straightaway lead over the fourth-place car of Jerry Coons, Jr. just ten laps into the show.
Lapped traffic came into play early on, but it didn’t do much to slow the pace of the leaders who maintained a torrid transit as they slipped their way around the tail-end of machinery. By lap 30, Kody found a home in a new zip code a half-straightaway ahead of Tanner and Santos.
At halfway, the race’s first yellow flag flew when Troy Thompson, in his series debut, spun backwards into the infield grass at the exit of turn two while battling with Bill Rose. Thompson’s car made no wall contact and the Florida native was able to restart.
On the ensuing restart, Kody had a pair of lapped cars as a buffer between himself and Tanner. It only took Tanner a lap-and-a-half to clear both Aaron Pierce, then Justin Grant. By then, Kody had taken advantage of the situation and stretched his lead out to 1.5 seconds.
With 27 laps remaining, fifth-running Jerry Coons, Jr. slowed with a flat right front tire to bring out second caution of the evening. The Tucson, Arizona native and USAC Triple Crown champ lost a lap in the pit area as the Gene Nolen Racing crew efficiently went to work on replacing the rubber before sending him back into the fray.
With the field bunched up at the resumption of racing on lap 77, Santos poked a nose under Tanner for the second position in turn one. The move was made to no avail, but Kody up front wasn’t able to escape the two chasers who ran nose-to-tail and remained close enough to strike despite their own personal battle for second.
In the late stages, the race for the win wasn’t the only competition at stake; there was also the ongoing race against the imminent storm. With 10 laps remaining and dark clouds emerging over the springtime Indiana sky, sixth-running Justin Grant slammed the turn three SAFER barrier, eerily similar to the shunt he experienced at Phoenix Raceway a month ago.
After the accident cleanup, that left just two laps and a green-white-checker shootout to the finish. Kody, Tanner and Santos lined up uninterrupted first through third for the final restart. Santos repeated his move from the most recent restart, but this time, powered his way past Tanner to snag second.
Santos went to work, gaining on Kody as he laid down his fastest two laps of the race, since lap four, on the 99th and 100th circuit. The anticipation grew as a David Byrne-esque charge for the win played through the minds of the enthusiastic crowd on-hand. However, Kody was even quicker than Santos on the final two rounds and muscled the No. 63 to his third overall LOR Silver Crown win by three-tenths over Santos, Tanner, Chris Windom and Aaron Pierce.
It was the third win in four races for Kody in the “black” pavement car that the team purchased after destroying their traditional “white” car in a jarring crash at Gateway Motorsports Park in June of 2016. Not that the white car was a slouch by any means, but it rarely got over the hump to find victory lane in Kody’s hands since he began his tenure with the team in 2014. The lone win with Kody at the wheel of the white car came at Toledo (OH) Speedway in May of 2015.
The black car utilized Friday night is a former RFMS Motorsports machine driven by A.J. Fike and has done wonders for the team’s asphalt program. Since the addition of the black car, Kody and the DePalma Motorsports team have won three of four on the blacktop: LOR (1st), Salem (Ind.) Speedway (1st), Phoenix (2nd) and LOR (1st), including 200 straight laps led at LOR over the past two events.
“I don’t think I fully attributed the trouble we were having to the white car until we got the black one,” Kody admits. “That white car had been wrecked and straightened before we had it and I don’t think I quite realized what lasting effects that had. This black car has been solid for us right out of the box and my guys work really hard to keep us near the front. I’m really thankful that the hard work is paying off.”
Contingency award winners Friday night at Lucas Oil Raceway include: Kody Swanson (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Kevin Studley (KSE Racing Products / Billy Winsemann Racing Hard Charger Award) and Troy Thompson (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES (presented by TRAXXAS) RACE RESULTS: May 26, 2017 – Brownsburg, Indiana – Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis – “Carb Night Classic”
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Kody Swanson, 63, DePalma-21.004; 2. Tanner Swanson, 02, Bowman-21.150; 3. Bobby Santos, 22, DJ Racing-21.228; 4. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn/Carli-21.351; 5. Jerry Coons, Jr., 20, Nolen-21.358; 6. Chris Windom, 92, Kazmark-21.368; 7. David Byrne, 40, Byrne-21.465; 8. Davey Hamilton, Jr., 98. RPM/Gormly-21.540; 9. Aaron Pierce, 26, Pierce-21.551; 10. A.J. Russell, 3, Finkenbinder-21.758; 11. Joe Axsom, 120, Nolen-22.089; 12. Cody Gerhardt, 60, Gerhardt-22.107; 13. Toni Breidinger, 80, Breidinger-22.232; 14. Joss Moffatt, 32, Williams/Wright-22.570; 15. Kevin Studley, 57, Studley-22.692; 16. Joe Liguori, 4, Liguori-23.101; 17. Patrick Lawson, 2, Lawson-23.284; 18. Bill Rose, 75, Rose-23.402; 19. J.C. Bland, 5, Bland-25.459; 20. Troy Thompson, 15, Thompson-27.532.
FEATURE: (100 laps) 1. Kody Swanson, 2. Bobby Santos, 3. Tanner Swanson, 4. Chris Windom, 5. Aaron Pierce, 6. David Byrne, 7. Kevin Studley, 8. A.J. Russell, 9. Jerry Coons Jr., 10. Patrick Lawson, 11. Toni Breidinger, 12. Joss Moffatt, 13. Troy Thompson, 14. Justin Grant, 15. Davey Hamilton Jr., 16. Bill Rose, 17. Joe Liguori, 18. Joe Axsom, 19. J.C. Bland, 20. Cody Gerhardt. NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-100 K.Swanson.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS/NICOLE & BILLY WINSEMANN RACING HARD CHARGER AWARD: Kevin Studley (15th-7th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Troy Thompson
NEW USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES (presented by TRAXXAS) POINTS: 1-K.Swanson-210, 2-Windom-171, 3-Coons-162, 4-Byrne-157, 5-Santos-140, 6-Pierce-133, 7-T.Swanson-97, 8-Russell-95, 9-Grant-91, 10-Breidinger-90.
NEXT USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES RACE (presented by TRAXXAS): June 16 – Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania – Williams Grove Speedway – “Horn-Schindler Memorial” – “USAC Triple Crown Showdown”