Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson in victory lane with Jerome Rodela’s No. 25 midget at IRP. (USAC photo)

Final Piece Of The Puzzle?

We have all had those moments. We should be fast asleep but are instead pondering what’s next in life. Or equally maddening are the days when one awakes with a mind flooded with the tasks to be done. Jerome Rodela knows all about this.

The former racer and current constructor/mechanic felt pressed to make a difficult decision. Last August, he beamed with pride as he watched Kyle Larson drive his midget to victory at Indianapolis Raceway Park. It was made special by the presence of his daughters and the joy that came with working alongside one of this era’s all-time great drivers. He could still be basking in the glory of a satisfying memory, but instead something was eating at him.

“It was just one of those things,” Rodela explained. “I woke up one morning and thought what am I doing? You win a race with Kyle Larson and how can you achieve something better?”

After some deliberation, he put his midget up for sale.

Dsc 5910 Speedsport Insider Kody Swanson Usac Irp 5 28 2021 Nearpass
Kody Swanson drives Jerome Rodela’s midget at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2021. (David Nearpass Photo)

Many miles away, Tim Bertrand was relaxing in Mexico when he saw Rodela’s post. It grabbed him by the throat. The last time Bertrand got so excited also came during a southern sojourn. On that occasion, Kevin Swindell proposed joining forces for the Chili Bowl Nationals. That ended with Logan Seavey clutching a Golden Driller.

Rodela’s post spoke directly to another of Bertrand’s elusive racing goals. He desperately wanted to win a midget race at IRP.

Bertrand is a successful businessman and salesman. He is charismatic and results oriented. When Rodela thinks back, he believes it took Bertrand 22 minutes to contact him and make an attractive offer.

“I have always admired Jerome’s car,” Bertrand said. “It is probably the nicest midget built by anyone. I thought that was a car that would never be for sale.”

Yet, he was quickly reminded of a time more than two decades ago when he learned that “Liquid” Lou Cicconi’s offset Drinan car was for sale. Bertrand purchased that car, which had been successful in the NEMA midget ranks, and it provided the template for the cars he runs today. It truly was déjà vu all over again.

Reason suggests the story would end right here. Rodela would add to his bank account and Bertrand would be confident he had acquired the missing piece needed to visit victory lane at IRP.

It wasn’t that easy.

Rodela had second thoughts. This was not just another race car to him. It was 15 years old and Rodela, Courtney Crone, Kody Swanson and Kyle Larson had all carried it to victory. Rodella was caught in a struggle between logic and emotion.

Getting nostalgic, he realized that over the past decade and a half he had only replaced a panel or two, and even the radius rods were original pieces. How does that happen in today’s world? It helps when a car has never been crashed and really has only spun out a time or two.

“When I first built it, it was in the Toyota Motorsports livery, so it was black, white and red. Then I redid it. The pearl white on the top was my tribute to Steve Lewis and Nine Racing,” Rodela explained. “For the bottom, I wanted that shade of red that was on Andy Granatelli’s STP cars. I called Ed Pink Engines and asked them to go through Ed’s old rolodex and find someone who worked on those cars. I found the color code and started spraying it on the tank and thought, God, this looks awful.

“This is not going to work on a midget and I just spent $400 on paint. I got every type of red I had in my cabinet and poured them together. Dark red, light red, metallic and put them all together. Once I sprayed that on and added a clear coat it was magical. Today, there are only about two teaspoons left of that color.”

The investment of time and energy and the memories tied up in this midget made this business decision deeply personal.

“It was like selling your childhood home,” Rodela said. “That car was a part of my life and it was what was keeping me in pavement midget racing.”

Despite a substantial offer, there was more to this story. Rodella and Bertrand were far from friends.