Jacob Wilson is a two-time Payless Little 500 champion – having won the race in 2013 and ’14 – so a runner-up result isn’t something he’d be expected to cherish.
But after a difficult few years in the event, Wilson was overjoyed with the result.
“It’s nice,” Wilson told Short Track Scene. “We made a lot of changes from last year, when we were kind of garbage. The year before we demolished the car we’d won twice with.
“It’s just nice to be back here in a maneuverable race car, and we could actually pass tonight. I was surprised by that.”
Wilson started fifth and stayed inside of the top five for the majority of the race’s 500 laps to secure his first top-two result in four years at Anderson Speedway.
Piloting his traditional Wilson Bros. Racing No. 07, Wilson managed a consistent drive from start to finish. The Hoosier stayed within range of the lead throughout the evening, rising and falling as pit stops cycled but maintaining the pace to drive his way back to front.
He fell as many as two laps down over the course of the day, losing time and laps due to the zaniness of Little 500’s pit stops. But Wilson kept a cool head and soldiered on.
“You’ve just got to keep your head,” he said. “I have a good team behind me, and my brother Clint’s in my ear most of the night letting me know what’s going on, where we’re at and when to push. When you’re on old tires you need to conserve, not really block but don’t make it easy on someone to pass you. When you’re on new tires you have to get going in a hurry.”
In the end Wilson found himself on the winning strategy, one lap behind leader Shane Hollingsworth when the final green flag flew, but with fresher rubber and the pace to reel him in.
There was only one issue – Kody Swanson was on the same strategy.
Wilson and Swanson dueled over the course of the final run, battling through lapped traffic as they rapidly closed in on Hollingsworth’s slow machine.
With 40 laps remaining Wilson still found himself in position to win the battle, but Swanson ultimately took advantage of a lapped car to make the pass for second that would ultimately be for the win.
“(Swanson) got me on a lapper,” he said. “That’s just racing sometimes. He made the right move, I made the wrong one at the wrong time, and after that it was all she wrote. He was just a little better on that last stint, and I couldn’t quite catch back up to him. We were pushing as hard as it was worth, but I just didn’t have enough unfortunately.”
While he was disappointed to come up short, Wilson cherished his return to the podium.
“It makes it a lot easier coming back here,” he said of his run. “I knew we had a good rocket ship, it was good tonight. But it really helps with sponsors. We had a lot of really good people with us this year, Mitch Smith Auto Service. A lot of people just jumped on today and yesterday after our qualifying run.
“It’s kind of neat to have an influx of cash back into short-track racing. Man, you can’t beat that. These guys come to the race every time, get hospitality stuff. It’s just awesome to be able to have the entire group together. We’re going to all have a beer together after this, celebrate a little bit and wonder what we could have done to beat him.”