As Jake Swanson continued to methodically rip out a section of flooring in his newly acquired Danville, Ind., home, he could be excused for taking a moment or two to find his bearings.
For years Swanson has been a master at juggling everything from college, a job, his shock business, racing, and marriage. Even though he is a young man, his schedule would tax even the heartiest among us. Now this.
Somehow, someway, a simple off-hand comment, made nearly in jest, created a new level of upheaval in his life.
However, relocating was a choice that Jake and his wife Jessica freely made, and represented a challenge the couple felt prepared to take on. In their hearts the Swansons knew that an opportunity like this was too rich to let pass.
Both husband and wife have racing deep in their blood, and Jake was certain that the best place to try and realize his dreams was in the Hoosier State.
Swanson was born into a family with an eclectic taste for motorsports. His grandfather raced hobby stocks, but his father and two uncles gravitated to motorcycles. For Chris Swanson, it started out with hairy events like the Barstow to Las Vegas cross-desert jaunts, and he continued to ramp up the adrenaline by moving to Supercross.
A badly-broken femur slowed him down for a time, and he reasoned that he could work back into shape in BMX.
What might have been a good plan in theory went horribly awry in practice. After all he had done on two wheels to date, it certainly seemed that tooling around on a bicycle would be relatively tame. This time the injury was a broken neck, and it was then that he realized that family responsibilities needed to take precedence over his racing life.
What some might have surmised as an example of living vicariously through a child, others less interested in armchair psychology saw as a simple way for a father and son to spend time together. Regardless of the motivation, Chris got his boy a kart.
“It was just a Pep Boys special with a little Briggs & Stratton engine,” Jake says with his characteristic laugh.
With the kart in tow, the duo headed to the parking lot at Jake’s school and created a track around the omnipresent speed bumps. It seemed such a harmless activity until the day the kart erupted in flames. “I was just wearing a T-shirt,” Swanson recalls, “and my dad flags me down and rips me out of the kart. He found a garden hose and put the fire out.”
It turned out that the gas tank was the culprit and, after Chris was able to calm his nerves a bit, he asked his son if he was scared. “Not really,” was the quick reply.
And on that basis, it was determined that Jake was ready for a bit more action.
By the time Swanson turned seven, he had met a man who still serves as a guiding force in his life. As a younger man, Larry Henry became fast friends with Norman “Bubby” Jones. As an owner, he helped Jones as the hard charger moved from his Danville, Ill., base and began to cut a larger swath throughout the central region of the nation in a sprint car.
Henry’s helping hand in the nascent days of Bubby’s career was a vital step in the process that would take Jones to the Indianapolis 500 and pave the way for his induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. When Jones decided to move his racing program west, Henry went with him.
One of Swanson’s uncles had actually raced for Henry, and along the way Larry also took an interest in Jake’s budding racing career. Henry owned a vintage Kurtis quarter-midget and told the Swansons they could take it if they wanted it.
The car was painted starburst blue, accented with silver ghost flames. Jake got his first win at Madera and quickly reeled off several more. When the points were tallied, he was the 2001 Pomona Valley Quarter Midget Association champion.
As far as Jake is concerned, his fate was already sealed.
“I was hooked, needle in the arm,” he says whimsically. “I needed more, and I needed to go faster.”
He would get his wish. He moved into competitive kart racing, and very quickly he was a big winner. Another title came his way and, with a growing reputation, he also got his first taste of being a bit of a hired gun.
Owner Max Overholtzer approached Jake about taking the seat of his quarter-midget. This gave him the chance to run in classes the family couldn’t afford and, in his words, “taught me a lot about car owners.”
Now he was at the first of many crossroads a racer must navigate if they are going to continue to move their career forward. His family couldn’t foot the bill as the equipment got increasingly expensive, so to keep at it required all concerned to be resourceful.
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