Before Wednesday morning, 18-year-old Matt Swanson had yet to sit in the car he was soon going to drive.
Swanson was selected to drive the iconic Lenny Boehler owned No. 3 car at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park due to Rowan Pennink’s absence. The usual driver was back home due to the birth of his child.
Remarkably, Swanson earned a career-best runner-up finish in the Bud King of Beers 150 on Wednesday night.
While a cliche, the phrase “feels like a win” perfectly summed up Swanson’s emotions after the race, largely due to the lack of seat time Swanson had before the event.
“I hadn’t sat in the car until this morning,” Swanson said. “It has a whole different style, setup in it than my cars have. I mean, they [the No. 3 crew] were telling me things that I would feel different on my way here, over the cell phone as I was following them to the racetrack… There was no testing, nothing involved with this. It was them calling me, trusting me to get in the race car and go out and do the best I could with it.”
The Acton, Massachusetts native was floored by the opportunity to drive a car with so much history behind it.
“There’s so many other people that race Modifieds around the country,” said Swanson. “It was just so special that they called me, asked me… To come out here with a famous modified like the No. 3 car and finish second, it’s just amazing.”
Swanson showed speed all day long. He ran ninth in the only practice session for the Tour, and followed that up with a seventh-place starting spot in qualifying.
“Ole Blue” stayed near the front thanks to Swanson, running inside the top-10 for the entirety of the opening green-flag run.
In the final third of the race, Swanson fell outside the top-10 after going up the racetrack in turn four. When Doug Coby spun on lap 123, Swanson chose not to pit, moving up to seventh in the process.
After gaining three positions on the ensuing restart, another caution came out on Lap 137. Restarting fourth, Swanson managed to maneuver his way up to second, where he would remain for the remainder of the race, despite a late charge by Coby, who was on fresh tires.
The second-place finish was especially sweet for Swanson, after engine issues forced him to withdraw from Friday’s race at Stafford, sponsored by Starrett, which also sponsors Swanson’s No. 89 car. Thompson gave Swanson some comfort, however, since two of his four career top-fives coming into the Bud 150 had come at the 5/8-mile oval.
“It was an engine failure. It was a bummer. It was a huge bummer,” said Swanson of the Stafford mishap.”Coming here today, I knew Thompson’s the track I feel most comfortable at, out of the whole Tour. I know the 3 car is always a rocket ship here… It’s really special to be where I am right now, and have the opportunity from the Boehler family.”
It was the drive of Matt Swanson’s career Wednesday night, and he will return to the Whelen Modified Tour circuit hungry for his first career win.