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

Final Piece Of The Puzzle?

“Every race I ran out here Tim was the guy I was hiding that car from,” Rodela said. “Because he was like a Russian spy. Out of everybody there, Tim was the one guy I was keeping the car covered up for.”

Then, there was the matter of Kody Swanson. Rodela had won with Swanson, and Bertrand hired him away. Swanson is an IRP master, but he is also more than just another good racer. Swanson is meticulous in everything he does. He keeps copious notes and he measures every tire. He is far from an arrive-and-drive racer.

Bertrand did not need to do a check-in with Rodela to know how he felt about losing Swanson. He knew why Rodella was still angry, but was also confident he could appeal to his rival’s pragmatic side.

“I told him the reason I hired him is that we are such similar people,” Bertrand recalled. “I just want to win. It is a dream of mine to win at IRP. I never thought I would win the Chili Bowl, but to win at IRP is still a bucket-list item.”

Dsc 2573 Speedsport Insider Ronnie Gardner 6 7 2017 Usac Imw Gas City Nearpass PhotoDespite making a very generous offer, Bertrand could not convince Rodella to pull the trigger.

“It was the first time in my life I was trying to sell someone on selling something to me,” Bertrand said with a laugh. “And, of course, I am in the sales business and pretty good at it. This guy really needed to be convinced we were the right guys to have this car.”

Bertrand pointed to his history as an owner, his maintenance program and his attention to detail. He also had Swanson. When it was clear Rodela was not going to give up his baby lightly, Bertrand called upon his interpersonal skill set.

Still, something about this whole deal had a familiar ring for Rodela. Then it hit him. It all reminded him of one of his favorite movies.

“I told my girlfriend there is a movie called ‘Heat,’” Rodela said. “It stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Pacino was an LAPD detective and De Niro was the brains behind a bank robbery that took place. De Niro kept eluding Pacino until finally Pacino scoped him out and chased him down.

“He nonchalantly pulled him over on an L.A. freeway but has a gun behind his back ready to shoot him if he had to. Robert De Niro also had a gun in his car. So Pacino says, ‘Hey why don’t we get a cup of coffee?’ Now the two of them, complete arch enemies, are sitting across from each other with their pistols sitting on their lap in a coffee shop. It is funny because they are like-minded and have a job to do.

“During this deal, Tim said, ‘When everything is done, I will take you out to dinner.’ The first thing that popped in my mind,” Rodela said with a laugh, “is that I’m probably going to be sitting at the dinner table with my gun on my lap.”

While all of this was sorted out, Rodela leaned heavily on his friends and mentors Steve Lewis and Tom Malloy. Rodela still managed a team for Malloy and his relationship with Lewis was decade’s deep.

Lewis counseled Rodela on the details he should consider and Malloy, as a racing history buff and collector, understood and appreciated what this race car meant to his friend.

The deal was made with the caveat being that at least in the short-term Rodela would remain involved post-sale. It was agreed Rodela would install the engine and set up the car all for his normal fee on top of the sale price. He would be there with the team at least for the first race.

“Since I built that car, it’s had a Toyota engine and I fine-tuned it. I refined every aspect of it from the balance to the way the engine ran, the way it accelerated, and how it decelerated in the corner,” Rodela explained. “It was just such a fine match. If I put his engine in it, it is going to be a different weight and different RPMs. There is a real difference between a Toyota and SR-11. It will be interesting if we can get it going.”

Rodela is still talking himself through the transition.

“It is going to be OK because I had to start thinking like a grown up,” Rodela said. “With what I got for that car I can put my first daughter through college.”

When he takes a deep breath, he knows one thing for certain. Bertrand treated him fairly.

As for Bertrand, does this new combination of machinery and talent guarantee a victory? It does not. Swanson knows this as well as anyone but says he is “cautiously optimistic.” He remembers his first test with Rodela and recalls “from the first five laps I knew Jerome’s car was different.”

Yet, he also knows that it took years of work to make this car a winner and he is acutely aware that a change in the engine package is significant. He relishes the challenge because he would love to help his owner check this important item off his list.