Nolen Racing's Swanson Leads Every Lap of Rich Vogler Classic
BROWNSBURG, Ind., Sept. 10 — A team’s heart is most readily seen when it remains focused and keeps working hard despite setbacks.
Nolen Racing’s heart was readily on display in the last few days after it missed its first USAC Silver Crown race in almost 20 years on Sept. 1. After setting the second-fastest time in the final practice session on old tires at the Du Quoin, Ill. State Fairgrounds, both its primary and secondary cars had engine problems before the race and the team was forced to withdraw from the Ted Horn 100.
“It could cost us the team championship, but that was just bad luck,” said team owner Gene Nolen of Greenwood, Ind.
Another driver, Patrick Lawson, graciously loaned Nolen Racing’s driver, Kody Swanson, his car to drive in that race so Swanson could finish 14th and remain the point leader in the series’ driver standings as he goes for his fifth championship.
But Nolen Racing, which has never won a USAC Silver Crown team championship and would really like to, lost its lead in the team standings for the first time this season, dropping to second place.
Last year Nolen Racing, a veteran USAC Silver Crown stalwart, ran two cars that placed third and fifth for the season, and it was second in 2017.
The predicament the Whiteland, Ind.-based team found itself in Saturday afternoon at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis was not as obvious. During practice the team struggled to find the sweet spot in the handling department for its famous yellow No. 20 that would make it fast yet drivable for Swanson in the 100-lap Rich Vogler Classic that night. Faces were long and brows were furrowed as the driver and crew pondered what changes to make to help the car get off the 0.686-mile asphalt oval’s four turns quickly without using up its engine, brakes and Hoosier tires.
Simply stated, the car was a handful to drive in the heat of the afternoon, and no one on the team knew why or what exactly to do to solve the problem.
The driver and crew kept working, however. They made their best guess at what would work during the race as the tires’ rubber wore down, the fuel load decreased, and the air and track temperatures dropped.
They desperately wanted the points that came with being the fastest qualifier, but Swanson qualified second with a lap in 20.633 seconds. That was just 0.059 off the 20.574-seconds lap Swanson’s younger brother Tanner ran to earn the Fatheadz Eyewear pole.
The team’s work paid off royally in the race, however. Swanson won a drag race against his brother into Turn 1 at the start, and led all 100 laps for his and Nolen Racing’s fifth victory in the series this year.
Swanson said afterwards the car was good during the race, and he made changes to his line constantly to adapt to the changing conditions and to find what would work best. “I was all over the track all night, trying to find the best way around,” he said of his drive in the Beast chassis powered by a Tranter-prepared Chevy engine. The team is sponsored in part by KECO Coatings, Goodridge and K&N Filters.
It was Swanson’s fifth victory ever at this particular track, and it extended the Zionsville, Ind. resident’s record as the driver with the most victories by anyone in series history to 29.
Swanson now leads the driver championship by 63 points over Justin Grant, 577 to 514. Nolen Racing also made big strides to regain its lead in the team championship with Saturday’s victory. It’s now 15 points behind Klatt Enterprises, 567 to 552.
Grant finished eighth on Saturday night, and Klatt Enterprises’ driver, Kyle Hamilton, finished third to the Swanson brothers, who are originally from Kingsburg, Calif.
There were three caution flags in the race, from laps 10 through 15, laps 44 through 47, and laps 66 through 68, but Swanson was up to the challenge on each restart.
He didn’t have the fastest car in the first quarter of the race, as both Hamilton and Tanner Swanson ran faster laps then. On lap 25 he had just a 0.313-second advantage over his brother.
By lap 41 he had a bit of breathing room, as he’d put 0.576 of a second between he and his sibling. By lap 45 Tanner Swanson had the fastest lap of the race so far followed by Kody Swanson, Hamilton, Grant and David Byrne.
But on lap 52 Kody Swanson set the fastest lap that anyone would run in the race with a lap in 20.956 and extended his lead over his brother by 1 second for the first time in the race; 1.012 to be exact.
He had a 2.100-second lead by lap 57, and a 1.726-second advantage that disappeared when the final yellow flew on lap 66.
But Swanson kept his head about him on the restart and continued to hit his marks. He was not only able to keep his brother at bay for the final restart on lap 69, but he had a 1-second lead two laps later.
Although Swanson was working hard, his advantage grew on the final green-flag run. His lead was over 2 seconds by lap 74, 3 seconds 10 laps later, 4 seconds by lap 91, 5 seconds by lap 93, and over 6 seconds by lap 98. His margin of victory was 6.165 seconds.
“That was a really good win,” said Nolen, who watched the whole thing from the pits in a wheelchair after undergoing heart surgeries in June. His poodle, Berry, was on his lap the whole time.
“Our car was really good,” Swanson said afterwards. “It got tight during the longer runs and I had to move around all night to try to find the best line, but maybe the other guys were dealing with the same thing or worse,” he said. “Every stint I drove the car a little bit different, using the throttle and the brakes a little different and using the banking of the racetrack a little different, just trying to help my car be the best it could be to try to keep the lead. We picked up a vibration for the last 30 laps and it was hard to negotiate [lapped] traffic, but I liked the way it turned out.
“It’s really hard to beat Tanner too,” he added. “He knows all my tricks.
“I have to thank our engine builder, Tranter Engines,” he continued. “It was nice to win that drag race into Turn 1 at the start. I’m thankful for the effort he turned in.
“And I’m very grateful for everyone on this team’s effort,” he said. “They didn’t quit, and neither do I. You can either wait for something good to happen to you or you can put the work in and try to help. Everyone who is a part of this has continued to give everything they could.”
Only two races remain in 2019: Sept. 22 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, and Sept. 27-28 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
FloRacing.com televises the series’ races live.
For more information see the team’s website at NolenRacing.com and follow @NolenRacing on Facebook and @NolenRacing20 on Twitter. The series’ website is at usacracing.com.
Photo credits: Gene Crucean