SALEM, Ind. — It was a milestone night for Kody Swanson Saturday at Salem Speedway.
Swanson earned his 30th USAC Silver Crown Series victory by winning his fifth consecutive Joe James-Pat O’Connor Memorial, breaking Pancho Carter’s record of four straight between 1974 and ’77.
Swanson pressed leader Bobby Santos throughout the first two-thirds of the 75-lap race before taking the lead in traffic with a spectacular three-wide pass on the outside of turn one on the 50th lap. He held on during several late-race restarts to capture the victory.
“Being second, you have the benefit because you can go where they aren’t,” Swanson explained. “Tonight, a couple times it got a little hairy and didn’t work. I don’t know if there’s anything more ‘Pancho’ for me than taking the lead three-wide in turn one on the outside at Salem. I don’t know if I deserve to be in the company (of Pancho), but I sure do appreciate the honor.”
The victory for Swanson aboard the Nolen Racing/KECO Coatings – Goodridge – K & N Filters/Beast/Tranter Chevy was a welcome sight for the team after an uncharacteristic performance just six days prior in the Silver Crown season opener at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway. There, the final result was an 11th-place finish after running outside of the top-10 all throughout the 74-lap race.
That result put into motion a meeting of the minds for driver and team as a whole to get back on the same page and right the ship after an auspicious start in rocky waters.
“We had a meeting after Selinsgrove,” Swanson recalled. “It was a tough conversation to have with all that led up to it with our results that night. The way we ended (the meeting) was that it already happened, so I want that to be our rock bottom. Everybody’s got a rock bottom and I am hoping that would be ours and everyone could pull together, and we could come out here this week and prove that we are better than we were in Pennsylvania.”
A similar scenario greeted Swanson on Saturday as it did just one year prior with the team utilizing two different race cars in practice. This time, it was the brakes that were creating havoc with the primary car in practice, forcing the team to roll the second car out of the trailer.
In the second practice session, Swanson took the “backup” to the top of the charts, then proceeded to clock in with the fastest qualifying time in Fatheadz Qualifying, thus earning him the pole position. However, at the start of the main event, it was Santos who got the jump on Swanson from his outside front row starting position while Swanson slotted into second.
“I did not want him to get the lead on the start and he didn’t want me to either,” Swanson remembered. “We raced hard that first lap and I know I was sideways and trying to keep it down off him.”
Third-running David Byrne was right in the thick of the hunt with Santos and Swanson before he slowed dramatically with mechanical trouble just eight laps into the event, the second time in two starts this year that the 2019 third-place Silver Crown points finisher’s race has met an early end.
Swanson had hounded Santos throughout, running nose-to-tail with the former NASCAR modified champion during the mid-stages, turning up the wick with attempted bids for the lead on the 44th and 47th laps, thwarted by the presence of gridlock style traffic on each occasion, the latter involving a stifling five-car shuffle in which Santos and Swanson had to dance their way through.
“I tried hard to get him early; I didn’t want to wait for lapped traffic; I didn’t want to wait until the end, but I had no choice,” Swanson explained. “I was getting a run on him on the outside of four, and I thought ‘that’s not very smart.’ It gets awful narrow there. Bobby is a very smart racer and he’s not going to give you any of the race track you need to pass him. What he was giving me there, I was trying to make work, but it couldn’t unless I just got lucky one time. Maybe I got lucky a couple times that I didn’t wreck trying it.”
With the heady Santos, a winner of 10 Silver Crown races in his own right, holding down the fort up front, all Swanson needed was one moment to make his break. Approaching the 10th place car of Joe Liguori, Santos became boxed in behind entering the middle of turn one. Swanson swung high to the outside of both cars to paste his ride in the top spot.
With a clear track ahead, Swanson built his lead to over a second ahead of Santos when one-time Silver Crown winner and ninth-place running Kyle Hamilton slowed on the front straightaway with smoke coming from the car, putting him out of the race.
That, plus a Liguori turn two spin with two laps remaining, set up a green-white-checkered finish with yellow flag laps counting for 73 laps of the 75-lap distance.
Santos had multiple shots at his one shot to defeat Swanson on the last couple of restarts, but couldn’t quite muster enough to put his car past Swanson, who drove to a 1.013-second victory over Santos, with Aaron Pierce.
Justin Grant and a career-best series finish for Derek Bischak, who rounded out the top five.
To see full results, turn to the next page.