Brownsburg, IN — Winning three USAC Silver Crown Champ Car races in a row is an accomplishment of epic proportions. In fact, it’s a feat that occurs so rarely, it took 13 seasons for it to happen again.
Perhaps there was something in the air that had Friday night’s “Dave Steele Carb Night Classic” at Lucas Oil Raceway pegged as the spot where the monumental task would be accomplished.
After all, the last one to win three consecutive was none other than Dave Steele in 2005, the man who used the .686-mile paved oval as his personal playground and ATM between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s in USAC competition and the man whose life was honored Friday night.
Perhaps no driver marvels at the significance of the event more than Kody Swanson. One night following his fourth-straight “Hoosier Hundred” victory, Swanson was again on a mission to get the coveted trophy and winner’s share totaling $17,000. But, this night had an extra emotional incentive factored in, winning the 100-lap event in memory of his late friend and mentor.
“Dave was an incredible competitor and his resume speaks for itself on the racetrack,” Swanson praised. “He was a friend and a guy I looked up to. I miss him dearly. It’s truly special to be able to compete in a race in his honor, and to win it is something else. Lynn and the Steele family are ones I care about so much. It’s great to see them here tonight and to see what they put into this event as well. You could feel the buzz from the crowd. I really hope this is something that everyone enjoyed not only for the Silver Crown series, but in memory of Dave.”
On this night, not only was a statistical accomplishment on the line, so were bragging rights among brothers. Tanner Swanson cashed in the fastest time in qualifying for a $1000 bonus, then elected to start the main event from the tail of the 22-car field, which would net him another bonus of $5000 if he could take the checkered flag.
A furious start saw new pole sitter Kody Swanson swap the lead with fellow front row starter Bobby Santos where they exchanged the lead multiple times in the opening laps before Kody cleared the most recent Silver Crown race winner at the track on lap three.
Meanwhile, Tanner was hauling the mail and, by lap 32, had moved into the top-five. Just like clockwork, three laps later, he was fourth. Another four laps clicked by, he was third.
By midway, it had become a three-car race at the front with Kody leading Aaron Pierce and Tanner who were stacking ’em deep and selling ’em cheap in rush traffic, running nose-to-tail one-two-three.
Kody went to the low line often to work around the lappers, keeping his ears tuned in to his wife, Jordan, for direction as she served as his eyes in the sky as a spotter for the DePalma Motorsports/Radio Hospital – Hampshire Racing Engines/Beast/Hampshire Chevy No. 63.
“My wife does an amazing job spotting,” Swanson said. “On a night like this where strategy is so important, I could try whatever strategy I had because I knew they were coming. That played a huge role. You hate to say it’s a radio race, but it is a strategy race. I feel like the Silver Crown series is open wheel’s big-time. You can’t ever give up. If you never do, breaks will go your way. And if you’re close, maybe you’ll come away with one here and there.”
After relentlessly working on Pierce for nearly one-third of the race, Tanner finally made the move on lap 68, sliding up in front of Pierce for second with an inside move in turn three. However, Tanner drifted up the racetrack, nearly collecting the outside SAFER barrier in the process. Pierce got back by momentarily, but it would be only four more laps before Tanner found a little bit of redemption, passing Pierce again, this time on the outside of turn two to take second.
“My goodness, multiple times I was three-wide in lapped traffic for the lead. Man, I sure hope people enjoyed that. I don’t know how it could get any more nail-biting. If I hadn’t have had both hands on the wheel, I think I would’ve been in the same boat. We survived that and were better after the caution. The longer it went, the tighter I got and, all the while, I have to withstand all these charges knowing Tanner’s still coming and that maybe we hadn’t seen anything yet.”
The final sprint to the finish would now be a showdown between Kody and younger brother Tanner, the way it has so many times before. Kody had been the dominant force thus far, but Tanner was the show throughout the race, bringing the fans to their feet with several daring passes on his charge to the front past 20 other competitors in the first 72 laps, something that didn’t surprise Kody one bit.
“I knew it wouldn’t be long,” Swanson admitted. “I’ve told people Dave (Steele) might’ve been the greatest of all-time in a pavement open wheel car. Tanner’s got to be next. For as little as he races, the fact that he comes out and he’s the guy. I’m biased, but I have to be. He’s my brother and he’s earned it, I think. He’s put it on us for how many years out here now? Tonight, he spotted us the field! Not only has he been special in a Silver Crown car at this racetrack, he’s been great in everything even as little as he gets to go.”
On lap 87, with the laps winding down, Kody took every avenue he could to keep his hard-charging younger brother at bay. It looked like a race from the Thursday/Saturday Night Thunder era of the early 1990s with Kody using the Steve Butler line at the entry of turn one in an effort to get around the lapped car of Chris Windom, nearly clipping the grass with his left side tires. Meanwhile, Tanner was running the old groove that was popular before the repave job in the late 1990s, right up against the outside wall in the corners.
“If you even think about making a mistake, Tanner’s going by you,” Swanson pointed out. “I was fortunate that a couple of the spots played out in my favor and I was able to get clear. I had one spot where I knew he got to my outside. My only move left was to try and stay there on the bottom and do some sort of pick and roll and just hope that the lapped car occupied the space because I had been had.”
Tanner was relentless in his approach, pulling alongside Kody on several occasions and appeared poised to make the winning pass with 10 laps remaining on the outside at the exit of turn two, but was shielded by a lapped car that shackled his momentum, allowing Kody to breakaway.
Simultaneously, Tanner’s car began to run low on fuel, causing the engine of his Bowman/Elmore Racing #02 to sputter as Kody began to put a gap on the rest of the field and would finish it out with Silver Crown win number 22, which stands just one behind Jack Hewitt for the all-time series lead.
Tanner just missed an opportunity to become the track’s winningest Silver Crown driver. He still stands at five alongside Mike Bliss. Aaron Pierce finished third with Bobby Santos and Chris Windom rounding out the top-five.
Only eight times previously has a driver gone back-to-back-to-back within the same season in Silver Crown competition, Mario Andretti (1974), Tom Bigelow (1975), Rick Hood (1985), Jack Hewitt (1986), J.J. Yeley (2003), Jay Drake (2004), Tyler Walker (2004) and Steele (2005).
Even rarer, though, is the driver who’s won two Silver Crown races in two nights: Andretti at the Missouri and Illinois State Fairgrounds in 1974 and J.J. Yeley at Indianapolis Raceway Park and the Indiana State Fairgrounds in 2003.
FEATURE: (100 laps) 1. Kody Swanson (1), 2. Tanner Swanson (22), 3. Aaron Pierce (6), 4. Bobby Santos (2), 5. Chris Windom (4), 6. Justin Grant (5), 7. David Byrne (3), 8. Jim Anderson (8), 9. Eric Gordon (9), 10. Kyle Hamilton (21), 11. Travis Welpott (17), 12. Patrick Lawson (16), 13. Cody Gerhardt (14), 14. Dave Darland (13), 15. Kyle Robbins (11), 16. Toni Breidinger (15), 17. Matt Goodnight (12), 18. Bill Rose (18), 19. Jerry Coons Jr. (7), 20. Derek Bischak (20), 21. Austin Blair (10), 22. Mike Haggenbottom (19).
-USAC Press Release
-Photo credit: David Nearpass