Kody Swanson’s Triumphant Comeback

Tanner (right) and Kody Swanson finished first and second in the USAC Western Sprint car Series feature at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale. (David E. Heithaus photo)
Kody Swanson (left) and his brother Tanner enjoy victory lane last week at Lucas Oil Raceway. Kody Swanson won the race, capping a comeback from serious injuries earlier this year. Tanner finished third. (David E. Heithaus photo)

On May 26, Kingsburg, California’s Kody Swanson suffered a violent crash during the Hut Hundred at Tri City Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind.

Driving the No. 11 Wilke-PAK Toyota Midget, he flipped, and then went into a series of violent rolls on the 83rd lap of the 100-lap race. His injuries were so severe, two skull fractures, a broken collarbone, and fractures in both arms, that he was airlifted to Saint Mary’s hospital in Evansville, Ind.

“My first memory after the crash,” says Swanson, while sitting in the motor home of his Team 6R Racing, Silver Crown car owner, Darryl Guiducci, “was seeing 6-8 people working on me. I remember them putting me on the helicopter, and think this has to be bad if I’m on a helicopter. I was in and out of it. Blood was running out of my ears. I knew it wasn’t good.”

During the few moments Swanson was lucid that afternoon, he wondered if he really wanted to continue doing the racing deal.

“Things can go bad out there very quickly,” states Swanson. “Things that can change the rest of your life.”

Adding to his second thoughts about racing was the fact that his wife of only three weeks was there, and witnessed the entire terrifying series of events. If he continued racing, Swanson realized that he had to not only consider what was best for him, but also for his wife, Jordan.

He met Jordan while they were attending Kingsburg High School. She had never been to a race prior to their meeting, but Swanson soon set that right. He took her to the track on one of their first dates.

She’s missed few races since.

And, she’s had a lot of racing to see.

Swanson began driving junior sprints in 2000. As he made his way up the ladder, he excelled with every type racing he attempted. He jumped into the 600cc Mini Sprints, and won three consecutive championships.

Then he moved to full-blown USAC Western sprints in 2005, and immediately won another championship, along with Rookie of The Year honors.

In 2008 he joined USAC’s national series, eventually making his way into all three divisions, midgets, sprint cars, and Silver Crown. He was 2009 rookie of the year in the big Silver Crown cars, and won his first Silver Crown race last year, the Ted Horn 100.

It obviously takes not only talent, but a combination of perseverance, determination, and desire to run as successfully as Swanson has at that level of competition.

With that incredible desire, it was only a matter of days after the crash before he was ready to get back in a race car. He knew that’s what he wanted to do. And, Jordan was there to support him in that decision.

Swanson was expected to miss three months of racing, but sheer determination got him back in a race car in less than two. On July 1, he entered the USAC midget/sprint car double-header at Toledo Speedway.

But during sprint car practice it was déjà vu all over again. The throttle stuck and he pounded the wall. This time he escaped without injuries, but the car still sits at the 6R Racing shop waiting for repairs to be completed.

The next day he ran a USAC midget show at Grundy County Speedway, but the big test still lay ahead. The July 28 combined, USAC midget/Silver Crown race at Lucas Oil Raceway.

This is, arguably, one of USAC’s biggest shows. The fast five-eighths mile in Clermont, Ind., always draws a large crowd, and the pits are jammed with NASCAR owners, drivers, and mechanics. Ryan Newman was entered. Tony Stewart and Kasey Kane would be there, if nothing else, just to hang out and watch their teams compete.

During practice, Swanson was less concerned about the race’s high profile than he was about the handling problems he was having with the Silver Crown car. As it turned out the tires were bad, but the 6R team didn’t know that then. With practice over they desperately slapped on a set of sticker tires, and sent him out to qualify. He posted sixth-quick time.

In the motor home waiting for the racing to start, he analyzed how the car had felt during the qualifying run, and what he would have to do to get the car to the front.

“I really believe that with what the car did on the stickers during qualifying, that we’re in good shape. You never know with an untested change, but I feel like that I have a real chance of winning,” Swanson said quietly, confidently.

“My team is the best,” he continues. “They’ve given me a good car, now it’s up to me to get the most out of it. Racing is so much a team sport. The driver gets the credit, but really all I am is the last man on the relay team.”

“Kody is one very smart kid,” remarks Darryl Guiducci about his driver who was the valedictorian of his high school graduating class, and earned a degree from Fresno State University. “He’s intelligent, and is always thinking about how to improve, how to get the most out of the car. He’ll find a way to get to the front tonight.”

And that’s exactly how it went down. Swanson warmed up for the 100-lap Silver Crown race by finishing fifth in the midget feature. In the Silver Crown show, he moved into the lead on the 20th lap, and was never seriously challenged.

Things did get dicey in the last half dozen laps, when the right rear started losing air. But, he fought off charges by pole sitter, Tracy Hines, and his brother, Tanner Swanson to take the checkered.

It was tumultuous scene in victory lane, as family, friends, and team celebrated Kody Swanson’s comeback from near tragedy in grand and glorious style.