by Jacob Hord, @HordRaceWatcher
It’s something the short-track community has known for a very long time: Kody Swanson isn’t human. Whether he’s in a USAC Silver Crown Car, Pavement Late Model, Indy Pro 2000, or a pavement midget, he just wins. If he doesn’t win, he’s in contention. That was the case this past Saturday at Eldora Speedway.
Swanson, a five-time Silver Crown Champion and th series all-time wins leader, was chosen as a “Local Legend” for the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) event at Eldora and would go up against series regulars like Tony Stewart, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, and Bill Elliott, among other legendary names. Swanson also competed in the USAC Silver Crown race for a very unique double-duty opportunity. It was an opportunity Swanson didn’t let go to waste in front of a huge Eldora crowd, and the biggest TV audience SRX has seen.
Swanson’s SRX heat race action didn’t go entirely to plan. A second-to-sixth showing in the first heat didn’t set the world on fire, and his second heat race was cut short after being involved in an incident, resulting in a DNF. This incident also forced Swanson to go to a backup car for the 50 lap SRX feature. Swanson did show some speed during the heat races; after dropping to third early in the first heat, he battled Castroneves hard for second, claimed second, and then ran down Kanaan for the lead. Swanson ended up bobbling a few times and dropped to sixth. The stage was set for Swanson to turn some heads in the feature event, though.
Swanson started ninth out of twelve cars after his heat race woes. Early on in the feature, Paul Tracy built a comfortable lead, and all eyes were on track-owner Tony Stewart, who started at the tail of the field after an extra trip down pit road before the green flag flew. Meanwhile, Swanson was running about a groove higher than most of the competition, the line that Donny Schatz has made famous at Eldora. Swanson started to see why that line is so good. He started picking off cars, one-by-one.
A lap 15 caution bunched the field back up, and Swanson went back to work, this time on the low side. Like, Greg Wilson low. Swanson found lots of speed on the low side before everyone else did, and was back to picking off cars. Before the caution came out on lap 23, Swanson was now third, eyeballing leaders Paul Tracy and Scott Speed. It didn’t take long for Swanson to chase down these two and claim the lead on lap 26. Swanson extended his lead as Speed challenged Tracy for second. His lead was wiped out on a lap 33 caution. Tracy got the jump on Swanson and briefly retook the lead. Keyword: briefly. Swanson retook the lead the next lap and started to check out once again.
“I found the top of one and two and the bottom of three and four, and even hustled the bottom of one and two. I was working my way through there and unfortunately, I think everyone else liked it, too, and it kind of wore out on me late in the race,” said Swanson.
Enter Tony Stewart. The bottom was starting to wear out, and Stewart had moved up towards the top of the track while Swanson was sticking to the bottom. On lap 43, a caution flew that would put Swanson and Stewart right next to each other. After a few laps side-by-side, another caution came out, this time there would be a five lap shootout for the win. The top was just too good, and Swanson wasn’t willing to race Stewart dirty for the win, and Stewart claimed the win, with Swanson coming home solidly in second.
“I tried to run him [Tony Stewart] hard, but leave him a space on the outside and run clean. I’m not a ‘wreck-to-win’ kind of guy. I want to do it right, and want to drive home feeling good about it. I feel good that I gave it my best shot tonight. I just wasn’t sure that I would clear him. I wanted to hustle across him and slide job him, but I wasn’t sure that when I hustled across him that I wouldn’t spin out right in front of him and the whole field.”
“You’re a racer, right? So you certainly want to win, and I hate that we didn’t,” said Swanson. “I’m really thankful for SRX and their crews, and how hard they worked to give me a chance. They certainly didn’t have to do that, but it means a lot that they did.”
Swanson continued: “[Tony] Stewart got a good run and kept his momentum running the top, I felt like if I could’ve cleared him maybe I could’ve kept him back there. I chose the bottom on the restart, and in hindsight, maybe that wasn’t the right choice. Obviously I didn’t win, so I needed to do something different, right?” Swanson said with a chuckle.
“I had a lot of fun racing, and I certainly appreciate the opportunity. It’s a superstar deal, and for them to include someone like me, it means a lot,” said the runner-up.
It may not have been the result Swanson wanted, but he couldn’t dwell on that, he had to go jump in the Silver Crown Car for another 50 lap feature. Swanson rolled off 15th in the feature, and just as he did in the SRX feature, went to work. Slowly, at first, Swanson started picking off cars as Tyler Courtney checked out from the field and there was a gaggle of cars fighting for second. By lap 10, Swanson was 13th. Four laps later, he was fifth. Kody Swanson doing Kody Swanson things.
“Through the middle stages, I could run around the outside of the guys who wanted to run the bottom and run underneath the guys who ran the top and just make momentum on the bank. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to do it quite like Tyler Courtney did, but I guess I never gave it that shot,” Swanson said with a laugh. “I hate to admit that, but I’m not going to be dishonest. I tried my best to make speed where I knew how for 50 laps and get the best finish I could.
Swanson stalked Matt Westfall in fourth for 11 laps before getting by on lap 29. Swanson’s next target was Kevin Thomas Jr. For 15 laps, Swanson studied what KTJ was doing, and on lap 44, Swanson got into third, where he would stay for the remainder of the race.
“This was probably the most unique experience I’ve had in the Silver Crown Car,” said Swanson.
That’s a pretty bold statement for the series’ all-time wins leader.
“That car was a bare frame two nights ago,” Swanson added. “It was the last car in the pits tonight. We got it as good as it could get so that I could at least reach the pedals to hotlap and qualify. Then when I went to goof around in the SRX car, these boys went to work and they made one fine race car. I’m really proud to be a part of that.
“Fifteenth to third is not an easy feat here, and the two guys in front of me are obviously some of the best that have ever run here at Eldora. I have a lot to be thankful for,” said Swanson.
Again, for the short-track world, Swanson’s success Saturday night wasn’t surprising. For the average race fan who is just learning of Swanson, he probably made them do a double take, and maybe some research as to who this guy is. Swanson shined on the national stage, deservingly so, and in typical Kody Swanson fashion, he was very humble about his success and genuine in his interviews.
Hopefully the national audience gives Swanson some attention that could lead to bigger opportunities, because as we all know, there isn’t anyone more deserving of a big ride than Kody Swanson. He is an incredible family-man, his wife is his spotter, and he has an incredible, almost an un-human amount of talent behind the wheel of any kind of car he drives. Kody Swanson’s don’t grow on trees, and he is in the prime of his career, ready for the shot the deserves.
By the way, Swanson raced a pavement late model Sunday in the Dayton 100 at Kil-Kare Speedway. He went sixteenth to fourth, because Kody Swanson.