By RICHIE MURRAY
TOLEDO, OH – Twenty wins. Count ’em up and you’ll find that in the annals of USAC Silver Crown racing, only two individuals have reached such a mark – two individuals who’ve also become synonymous with car number 63 and crew chief Bob Hampshire, which have graced victory lane so many times over the past three decades in the division.
Kody Swanson has now entered the lexicon following his victory in Friday night’s Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness “Rollie Beale Classic” at Toledo Speedway as he put on a performance as smooth as glass in the city clearly made famous for its production. The Kingsburg, Calif. driver now stands just three behind series king Jack Hewitt’s long-standing record of 23 victories.
Swanson’s performance came just five days after a topsy-turvy, tumultuous outing during the “Sumar Classic” at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track. Alea iacta est for Swanson’s legacy in the history of Silver Crown racing as he arrived in the 2018 season and was reiterated at Terre Haute. It’s a trait that has molded Swanson and the DePalma Motorsports team into three-time series champs, something they reinforced to all at Toledo after overcoming a subpar qualifying run (for them) that placed them mid-pack for the start of the main event.
“It’s hard to believe we had to make such big changes after practice,” Swanson reflects. “We were pretty speedy, but knew it just wasn’t right. I thought I screwed up and gave it all away. I had to start behind eight very good racecars and drivers. At Toledo, that’s pretty tricky. We made even more changes after qualifying. I’m not sure if we were going too far or if it hadn’t come in yet. We were kind of in the dark. We all huddled around and gave it our best shot. The consensus was, right, wrong or indifferent; I was going to have 100 laps to figure out how to get whatever we could get.”
By the end of the first lap, Swanson had already advanced three positions to the sixth spot, taking evasive action when Kyle Hamilton’s ride was hesitant to take off. causing the inside row to check up momentarily. Meanwhile, outside front row starter Jerry Coons, Jr. bolted to the lead at the start to lead the opening laps for the second consecutive race.
Swanson steadily moved forward to fifth on lap five and fourth on lap 15 where he maintained position for the remainder of the first third of the race as the first caution of the night came out on the 33rd lap for the stopped car of sixth-running Hamilton. If the Swanson/DePalma team had any chink in its armor in recent years, it was restarts. But for the lap 37 restart in Friday night’s race, this was where the team won the thing.
“Something we’ve struggled with at times is taking off on starts,” Swanson acknowledges. “Tonight, this thing took off the best it has in four or five years. We got a couple spots and some good runs on restarts because of the effort these guys put in at the shop.”
Second-running Santos didn’t quite launch on the restart, so Swanson went where they weren’t. By turn two, Swanson had muscled the banks to take third from Byrne and second from defending race winner Santos in the snap of a finger. Just three laps later, Swanson had roped in the race leader, Coons, and sped around him for the top spot exiting turn two on the 40th circuit.
“I don’t know if it was the motivation or driving angry or whatever you want to call it, but whether that was a good move or bad, I went to the top,” Swanson justified. “It happened to work out and I kind of got a run on the outside and got into second with a two-for-one in one turn. I don’t know why it seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought, ‘well, I’ll just go for more.’ Bobby almost got back to the inside of me and that pretty much solidified that it’s now or never. You’re either first or third at that point.”
Moments later, Coons had his race end abruptly when he began to slow before steering his ride back to the pit area. Swanson, though, was on complete cruise control, ramping up his lead to a half-straightaway by midway. Swanson continuously extended his lead throughout the second half as he checked off a succession of lapped cars until the final yellow flag fell with three laps remaining when Austin Nemire and Travis Welpott made contact in turn four, sending Welpott into a spin.
On the final restart, by rule, the lapped cars would be removed from the equation and start from the tail. The frightening proposition for Swanson was that the two drivers directly behind him had found another life.
“Bobby (Santos) and David (Byrne) were second and third and are really good racers,” Swanson said. “They’ll both race you really hard and really clean, but you’re not safe with them behind you. They’ve proven they can pass anybody at any time. It’s just one of things where you must focus. I’ve got my wife on the radio, and we had the best car during the race. It was my job to hit two good laps.”
“The engine took off great on the restart and got me a little bit of a gap, which is huge into turn one knowing that they’re not already on your bumper,” Swanson detailed. “If you make any sort of mistake, you can run it in there and try to build some momentum. Luckily, the thing re-fired up really well and we were able to pull away in the last two laps to seal it. What a wild night, what a wild weekend it’s been. It’s all the reasons why I love Silver Crown racing.”
Swanson finished out the deal, winning his third career “Rollie Beale Classic” by just a tick under a second over Santos, Byrne, Eric Gordon and Aaron Pierce. Swanson had previously won the annual event back in 2011 and 2015, a race that has a special personal meaning to him.
“The first one I won, I got my picture taken with Rollie in victory lane and met his whole family, which was really cool,” Swanson remembers. “Not only does this race mean a lot, but now we race in his memory. The legacy that he left in open wheel racing just means that much more and it’s always cool to come back and race in Toledo in his honor.”
USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES RACE RESULTS: May 4, 2018 – Toledo, Ohio – Toledo Speedway – “Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness Rollie Beale Classic”
QUALIFYING: 1. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn-15.170; 2. Eric Gordon, 21, Armstrong-15.205; 3. Kyle Hamilton, 6, Klatt-15.222; 4. Jerry Coons, Jr., 20, Nolen-15.269; 5. Chris Windom, 17, Nolen-15.311; 6. Bobby Santos, 22, DJ-15.370; 7. David Byrne, 40, Byrne-15.427; 8. Aaron Pierce, 26, Pierce-15.436; 9. Kody Swanson, 63, DePalma-15.538; 10. Austin Nemire, 16, Nemire/Lesko-15.698; 11. Travis Welpott, 18, Welpott/Gorman-15.753; 12. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-15.759; 13. Dave Darland, 32, Williams & Wright-15.974; 14. Kyle Robbins, 7, KR-15.983; 15. Cody Gerhardt, 60, Gerhardt-16.049; 16. Toni Breidinger, 80, Breidinger-17.239; 17. Cody Gallogly, 81, Williams-NT.
FEATURE: (100 laps) 1. Kody Swanson (9), 2. Bobby Santos (4), 3. David Byrne (7), 4. Eric Gordon (16), 5. Aaron Pierce (6), 6. Austin Nemire (8), 7. Cody Gerhardt (15), 8. Matt Goodnight (10), 9. Travis Welpott (11), 10. Justin Grant (1), 11. Kyle Robbins (12), 12. Toni Breidinger (14), 13. Jerry Coons, Jr. (2), 14. Kyle Hamilton (3), 15. Chris Windom (5), 16. Dave Darland (13). 32:00.90
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-39 Coons, Laps 40-100 Swanson.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER AWARD: Eric Gordon (16th to 4th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Jerry Coons, Jr.
NEW USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES POINTS: 1-Swanson-210, 2-Grant-183. 3-Windom-143, 4-Byrne-139, 5-Santos-137, 6-Pierce-128, 7-Nemire-127, 8-Welpott-126, 9-Gordon-122, 10-Coons-118.
NEXT USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES RACE: May 24 – Indianapolis, Indiana – Indiana State Fairgrounds – “Hoosier Hundred”