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USAC Silver Crown

Kody Swanson: Silver Crown’s Heart and Soul

The seven-time Big Car champion has a sterling reputation in a cutthroat business

Jack Kessler Photography

If you thought Kody Swanson was good in a Champ Car before, just wait until you see him over a full season paired with a Rolex 24 winning crew chief and a 24 Hours of Le Mans winning engine builder, because that’s who he’s got in his corner in the form of Kevin Doran and Dan Binks.

Good luck with that.

“There is nothing short track about this short track race team,” said Swanson leaving the shop on Wednesday night in advance of the Hooiser Hundred on Friday at IRP and Little 500 on Saturday night at Anderson.

Swanson had driven for Doran on pavement the past two seasons, was later joined by Binks to provide the power plant, but now they are a full-fledged ownership group on both surfaces in support of the driver seeking his eight championship in a Champ Car.

“It’s a neat combination,” Swanson added. “Dan with his Le Mans background. Kevin as a crew chief and team owner. They’ve worn a lot of different hats over the years. The road racing world is so different but yet we’ve all kind of found something here that we really enjoy. It’s been really cool.”

Before they could even chase a championship on both surfaces, they needed a dirt car and remarkably found one in the most fitting of places — the former DePalma Motorsports No. 63 Maxim chassis that Swanson drove to championships from 2014 to 2018.

Now christened No. 77, this is something of a dream team of cars, personnel and the driver set to compete in the full 13-race slate in the premiere USAC division. It would be easy to root against the 35-year-old if he weren’t so damn likable.

And that’s the thing, right, that Swanson is not only the face of Big Car racing but also its heart and soul.

Justin Grant tells the story of how he immediately disliked Swanson upon first meeting him, not because he was unlikeable but because he was too good for it to be authentic. There was no way, in his immediate estimation, that Swanson could be that genuinely warm and sincere.

Swanson later officiated his wedding.

As USAC historian and journalist Pat Sullivan tells it, he’s as good on the track and off it as anyone he’s ever known.

“I share with many fans the greatest level of frustration that he isn’t racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in something,” Sullivan told STS. “High school valedictorian, meets his wife Jo on the way to the county fair. He loves his wife. As Justin Grant says it, Kody is the greatest person I have ever known. He is a tremendous driver and has a tremendous drive to win.

“And what makes Silver Crown so interesting is that you have to use your head and throttle. He has both. He has this great history in the DePalma No. 63 that Jack Hewitt also dominated within but Kody is just getting started.”

The praise doesn’t end there, continuing through his primary championship rival the past two seasons, Chili Bowl champion Logan Seavey.

“He’s the target on the track and the model guy off the track,” Seavey said. “He works as hard as anyone. You don’t wake up and just be that fast. His brain is always turning.

“When we first started doing Silver Crown, we tested together and I asked him to look over our stuff, and he gave us some really helpful tips. He wasn’t planning to race full-time that year but once he got that full-time deal, he got a little more quiet.

“Which, I understand, but it meant a lot that he was so willing to catch us up to speed to begin with.”

That’s the norm for Swanson, who puts the health of the series on the same pedestal as his own racing career, with the mindset that his success in Silver Crown means more when it comes against a healthier roster.

“I know Ronnie Gardner; and Robbie Rice is important to me,” Swanson said of the Seavey support group. “I’m a customer of his. I wanted to make sure they were good. When I first came over and started running Champ Cars, I had people that helped me, and I wanted to do the same with Logan.

“I wanted him to have a fair shake. I gave them a few tips. I just wanted them to have a good time, but they’ve gotten very good, especially on pavement, and obviously he’s really good on dirt. I admire them.”

READ MORE: Hoosier Hundred Boasts Historic Pavement Entry List

Kasey Coler, general manager at Lucas Oil Indiana Raceway Park, says he admires Swanson for reasons beyond his acumen behind the wheel.

“I first met Kody at the end of my time at IndyCar at the Long Beach celebrity driver event, so I knew him a little bit,” Coler said. “But I’ve really come to use him as a sounding board for any decision with the oval. He really knows how to separate things from a driver standpoint or owner and even from a sponsorship standpoint.”

He praised Swanson for ‘going above and beyond’ in making his Daytona 500 watch party at the speedway a success without asking anything in return. His six-year-old twin daughters, Emerson and Leighton, have immediately become Swanson fans too.

“In our home, Kyle Larson doesn’t mean anything,” Coler said. “Neither does Dixon, or Foyt, none of the obvious names. A couple of years ago, Carb Night, he’s doing a close out sale of his DePalma gear and they got a bunch of them.

“Every night, it’s ‘did Kody win, did Kody win,’ and the answer is ‘yes’ more often than not.”

Swanson credits any perception of his values to his parents and how he and brother Tanner were raised. He says they were raised above all else to simply care about people.

“Racing can be really cutthroat,” Swanson said. “I don’t always get it right. I’m very competitive too, but because of that, I understand the joy of winning and I want to help people experience that same joy.

“I’m known for being emotional, wearing my heart on my sleeve, but it’s because I know the sacrifices everyone around me has made at some point. I get overwhelmed with appreciation that I get to have these experiences together with the people I care about. I guess at the end of the day, I’m fortunate to care about people.

“That’s how I was raised. To be fair to people. Sometimes, that’s hard, and I get it wrong, but I always try more often than not.”

It’s easy to see why Grant would immediately want to call ‘BS,’ because that’s the sort of thing you read on a hallmark card or hear it from someone reciting platitudes.

But that’s legitimately Kody Swanson and it’s why people like Sullivan or the legion of fans he references are so dang frustrated on Swanson’s behalf that he didn’t make it to Cup or IndyCar.

He spent the past three seasons chasing both of those divisions earnestly, winning an Indy Pro 2000 race at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2020 and a handful of Stock Car races in 2021 and 2022 too. But the funding never materialized to fully chase that the right way and Swanson once again finds himself back in Champ Cars and Sprint Cars.

And if that’s his lot in racing, he is more than grateful to continue the ride, chasing wins with Binks Doran Racing while also building USAC Silver Crown into the best version of itself too.

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He also has extensive experience covering NASCAR, IndyCar and Dirt Sprint Cars.

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