Mother Nature may have delayed Sunday’s USAC Silver Crown race at Toledo Speedway by one day, but it still couldn’t keep Kody Swanson out of victory lane as he wired all 100 laps to score his fourth career Rollie Beale Classic victory, his record-extending 26th overall Silver Crown victory and second-straight in the series to begin the 2019 season.
Granted, any victory is difficult to come by. The Kingsburg, Calif. native always seems to make it look relatively easily, although the backstories certainly tell a different tale.
In the March Memphis opener, Swanson and Nolen Racing endured a number of mechanical issues that forced them to a backup car on raceday. The team went on to win their debut after starting from the pole. To onlookers, the story appeared to unfold much the same Sunday at Toledo, winning his 26th career pole position and leading all 100 laps to win his sixth-straight Silver Crown race on pavement, an all-time record.
However, as with most success stories in racing, chapter one begins “Once upon a time…” somewhere in the race shop, with a crew burning the midnight oil with hour-after-hour of tedious maintenance and improvements. Or, perhaps, on the road, the setting may become a parking lot, as it was with Swanson and Nolen.
“The Nolen Racing 20 and everybody that’s involved is just digging harder and harder,” Swanson explained. “Yesterday, we worked in the parking lot for six-and-a-half hours before the rain came to make sure we’d be ready. Whether we liked it or not at the time, it’s the kind of stuff like that that gives you a chance to finish 100 laps and a chance to win on race day.”
Just two days shy of Kody and his wife, and spotter, Jordan’s eighth anniversary, Swanson was able to scoot out to the lead at the drop of the green, leading a three-car breakaway with outside front row starter Kyle Hamilton and Eric Gordon in tow.
On the 20th lap, second-running Hamilton encountered an issue and began to slow to bring out the yellow, ending a promising bid for a win after challenging Swanson in the early-going. An inadvertent yellow slotted him back to eighth on the ensuing restart where he was able to gather himself and race back to a sixth-place finish by race’s end.
On lap 33, seventh-running C.J. Leary’s car blew off a radiator hose in turn two. Chaos developed behind him as the oncoming drivers took evasive action. Justin Grant went right to avoid the spinning Leary. Kevin Thomas, Jr. had no place to go, ramping over Grant’s right rear and slamming nose-first into the outside back straightaway wall, sending his car into a 360-degree, mid-air roundabout before landing on all fours. Hamilton was also caught up in the incident, spinning to the inside without contact. Hamilton restarted, but the incident marked the end of the day for both Leary and Thomas.
Following the cleanup, and through the mid-portion of the race, the man on the move was 2017 “Rollie Beale Classic” winner Bobby Santos. Santos started 11th, but before the yellow, was up to sixth before turning up the wick, using the high line to enter the top-five around the outside of 2016 series champ Chris Windom between turns three and four on lap 48.
Three laps later, he used the bottom to drive by David Byrne on the low line for fourth on the 51st lap, then took third on lap 54 when second-running Gordon fell off the pace with a driveline issue, then set forth toward Aaron Pierce for the runner-up position before two-time American LeMans Series champ Chris Dyson spun backward into the infield grass in turn three on lap 59.
On the lap 67 restart, Windom entered the fray once again as a four-car battle for second ensued between Pierce in second, while Windom and Santos dueled side-by-side for third, with Grant trailing the herd in fifth. Santos finally cleared Windom with just a little more than a quarter of the race left in the tank and set forth once again toward Pierce for second.
In the meantime, Swanson had boosted his lead up to 2.5 seconds and growing while Pierce and Santos duked it out western saloon-style more than a half-straightaway back. Santos aimed low in turns three and four below Pierce on lap 90 of 100 to pull even off the exit of turn four. Santos had the run on Pierce into turn one. Pierce wound up wide in turn two, allowing Santos to breakaway with the runner-up spot. However, dwindling time and hope impeded Santos’ opportunity to chase down Swanson who was, by then, more than four seconds ahead.
Swanson closed out yet another “Rollie Beale Classic” victory, following triumphs in 2011, 2015 and 2018. Swanson held the advantage by 4.121 seconds at the checkered over Santos, Pierce, Grant and Windom. Swanson now holds an 18-point lead over Santos, Grant, Hamilton and leading Rookie Joey Schmidt.
RESULTS: (100 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Kody Swanson (1), 2. Bobby Santos (11), 3. Aaron Pierce (3), 4. Justin Grant (6), 5. Chris Windom (10), 6. Kyle Hamilton (2), 7. Austin Nemire (20), 8. Derek Bischak (12), 9. Joey Schmidt (13), 10. Brian Gerster (19), 11. Russ Gamester (16), 12. Mike Haggenbottom (22), 13. Cody Gerhardt (21), 14. Kyle Robbins (17), 15. Cody Gallogly (18), 16. Chris Dyson (14), 17. Matt Goodnight (15), 18. Eric Gordon (4), 19. David Byrne (7), 20. Jason Conn (9), 21. C.J. Leary (5), 22. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (8).