JEFFERSON, Wis. – After his win at Madison Int’l Speedway on the final day of August, James Swan claimed his plan was to win the remaining four races on the Mid-American Stock Car Series schedule in hopes of bridging the gap caused by two missed races.
The five-time series titlist was able to keep to his plan on Saturday night when Mid-American made its first visit to Wisconsin’s Action Track since 1995. Swan eked out a lead over Frank Slabenek, Jr. on lap 29 when the yellow came out, and pulled away on two restarts to secure his fourth win in seven starts.
“That was the plan,” Swan said of his comments after winning at Madison. “I never thought it would happen, especially here, especially at Madison. These are the two hard ones. I hope the rest are easy.”
A trip to Jefferson proved to be a wild-card event in many ways for the 22 MASCS racers who pulled through the gates to take part in the Wisconsin State Championships. Drivers received some early practice time before racing started, and did not hit the track until nearly 10:45 for the 50-lap feature race.
Mid-American was a late addition to the schedule as Dells Raceway Park moved its September Showdown dates last week. Teams were very willing to adapt, and very appreciative of the chance to race at Jefferson.
The extra down time between practice and the race gave Swan and the rest of the field a chance to learn by examples of the local divisions. Swan said his curiosity piqued when the Sportsman division hit the track for their twin 35-lap features.
“We sat and watched the Sportsman cars a little bit to see where they were running,” Swan explained. “It gave me a couple ideas of what I was going to try, and it worked.”
Although he watched carefully, Swan did have some experience at Jefferson over the past seasons racing in a Big 8 Late Model. Swan said the experience in the Late Model did little to help him with the MASCS racer though.
“It’s about knowing where the grip is on the race track because there isn’t a whole lot out there, but there is some,” Swan said. “I tried running the Mid-American car like the Late Model and it just didn’t work. I couldn’t get to the grip where it was.”
Because of the tight schedule, the MASCS racers did not qualify. They were lined up by points with a ten-car inversion. The inversion placed Rick Tackman on the front row alongside Jack Stern. Point leaders Jeremy Spoonmore and Lyle Nowak started in the fifth row with only 12 points separating them at the top of the standings.
Stern took an early lead from Tackman when the green flag fell. Drivers scrambled to find the line and groove which seemed most comfortable. As they positioned themselves, Slabanek took advantage of his inside-row-two starting spot to slide to the bottom and swipe the lead with a daring three-wide maneuver past Stern and Tackman on the first lap.
As the field came across the line to click off lap two, Brad Keith spun to bring out the first caution of the race. All restarts were single file and Slabenek took off once the green was displayed again.
Darting through traffic quickly, Swan had moved to fourth on lap three and Jake Finney soon followed to grab fifth. Their run was cut off on lap eight when Chris Storey spun to bring out another caution.
After moving around Stern, Swan restarted third with Finney behind in fourth. Swan burned five laps working on Tackman for second as Slabenek got away. Once Swan pulled ahead, he began to reel in Slabenek. The two raced side by side swapping the top spot on multiple occasions.
Although it was Slabenek’s first visit to the venue, the rookie proved to be no pushover as Swan worked feverishly on the bottom line.
“He was pretty fast. I saw him go way up the track in one and I thought I had him, but I spun the tires off the turn and I didn’t have him,” Swan recalled. “I didn’t know if I was going to get him. I was trying all kinds of different lanes trying to see where I was better and where he was better.”
Swan caught a break on lap 29, Slabenek’s car number, ironically. Caution fell for a Rick Corso spin and with the line up reverted to the last completed lap, Swan was handed the lead.
Had Slabenek held the lead on that lap, Swan wasn’t sure what may have happened over the next 21 circuits.
“I needed a longer run to get by him. A lot of it was timing. I didn’t know I had it. I looked up on the scoreboard and they had me leading.”
On the restart Slabenek gave Swan his best challenge before the checkered was displayed. Slabenek got into the back of Swan in an attempt to shake him out of the second turn. However, Slabenek gave Swan enough room to correct his racer, and Swan broke away.
“I tried not over-driving the car and I don’t know if I drove in too light or he drove in too hard. We just kept going and I just got away from him,” Swan said.
As Swan cruised out front comfortably after another restart on lap 32, attention turned to the point leaders. On this night Nowak had Spoonmore covered by maintaining several car lengths over the final 10 laps in the battle for fifth. Between that battle and Swan, Slabenek held on to second, Finney was third, and Ryan Gutknecht was fourth.