TOLEDO, Ohio – Following his first Toledo Speedway USAC Silver Crown Series triumph in 2011, Kody Swanson had the opportunity to meet 1973 USAC National Sprint Car Series champion Rollie Beale in victory lane.
After Beale’s passing in 2014, that one moment and this race have become so much more to Swanson, not only for a chance to honor the Toledo racing legend, but also now to race in his memory.
Beale is the namesake of this Saturday’s Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness Rollie Beale Classic, the second pavement race of the year for the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series.
Since his first Beale Classic victory, Swanson has reeled off two more Rollie Beale Classic wins, topping the field in 2015 and 2018, giving him a batting average of .500 in the six Silver Crown events held at the half-mile, high-banked paved oval.
Last year’s win put him in select company at the time, making him one of only two individuals to have reached the 20-win mark, and it was the start of a string of a series-record five-straight Silver Crown wins for the four-time champ.
Swanson now comes into Saturday’s race at Toledo having won five consecutive pavement USAC Silver Crown races, surpassing Dave Steele’s record of four-straight in 2005 following his season-opening win at Memphis Int’l Raceway in March with Nolen Racing.
Last spring at Toledo, driving for DePalma Motorsports, Swanson overcame an uncharacteristically-subpar qualifying run that placed him ninth for the start of the 100-lap main event.
“It’s hard to believe we had to make such big changes after practice,” Swanson reflected. “We were pretty speedy, but knew it just wasn’t right. I thought I screwed up and gave it all away. I had to start behind eight very good race cars and drivers, and at Toledo, that’s pretty tricky. We made even more changes after qualifying. I’m not sure if we were going too far or if it hadn’t come in yet. We were kind of in the dark.
“We all huddled around and gave it our best shot. The consensus was that right, wrong or indifferent, I was going to have 100 laps to figure out how to get whatever we could get.”
By the end of the first lap, Swanson had already advanced three positions to the sixth spot, taking evasive action when Kyle Hamilton’s ride was hesitant to take off, causing the inside row to check up momentarily.
Meanwhile, outside front row starter Jerry Coons Jr. bolted to the lead at the start to lead the opening laps for the second consecutive race.
Swanson steadily moved forward to fifth on lap five and fourth on lap 15, where he maintained position for the remainder of the first third of the race, but if the Swanson/DePalma team had any chink in its armor in recent years, it was restarts.
For the lap-37 restart in last year’s race, however, it was where the team won the thing.
“Something we’ve struggled with at times is taking off on starts,” Swanson acknowledged. “That night, the thing took off the best it has in four or five years. We got a couple spots and some good runs on restarts because of the effort these guys put in at the shop.”
Second-running Santos didn’t quite launch on the restart, so Swanson went where they weren’t. By turn two, Swanson had muscled the banks to take third from Byrne and second from defending race winner Santos in the snap of a finger.
Just three laps later, Swanson had roped in race leader Coons and sped around him for the top spot exiting turn two on the 40th circuit.
“I don’t know if it was the motivation or driving angry or whatever you want to call it, but whether that was a good move or bad, I went to the top,” Swanson justified. “It happened to work out, and I kind of got a run on the outside and got into second with a two-for-one in one turn. I don’t know why it seemed like a good idea at the time.
“I thought, ‘well, I’ll just go for more,'” he added. “Bobby almost got back to the inside of me and that pretty much solidified that it’s now or never. You’re either first or third at that point.”
Swanson continuously extended his lead throughout the second half, as he checked off a succession of lapped cars until the final yellow flag fell with three laps remaining.
That was of no consequence to Swanson, however, as he drove off to the victory.
Swanson certainly has quite a few reasons to love Silver Crown racing, as he’s made winning his forte in a variety of cars. His three Toledo Silver Crown wins have come in three different cars with two different teams.
His first opportunity with Nolen at Toledo lies in the wait. If winning the pole and capturing the victory in his first go-around at Memphis is any indication of how Toledo will go, there’s no telling what the Swanson-and-Nolen combo can achieve in 2019.