ROSSBURG, Ohio – For Kody Swanson, 2019 was a year unlike any other.
The record books will show the Kingsburg, Calif., driver having another dominant year, with five wins in 10 races and an unprecedented fifth USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series title.
However, pure statistics don’t always tell the whole story. Swanson’s story this year had its ups and downs, peaks and valleys, heartaches and headaches, but it ended with the thrill of victory and another triumph in a year the 31-year-old driver calls gratifying.
“It’s been a very challenging year,” Swanson admitted. “The thing that’s been great is these guys have been resilient. We won two pavement races with a backup car. Issues will happen in racing and you never know what will happen, but that’s what makes it so gratifying to win a race or a title, when you overcame so much.
“These guys overcame an awful lot this year and they’re champions with me.”
It’s a story that began over the offseason, when Swanson’s former team, DePalma Motorsports – with which he won four Silver Crown driver titles in a four-year-span – closed up shop and sent the hottest free agent in the discipline on the hunt for a new ride.
He landed at Greenwood, Indiana-based Nolen Racing, the venerable team that had been winners with the series from 1991 through 2018, with drivers like Johnny Parsons, Jim Keeker, Tony Elliott, Shane Hollingsworth and Chris Windom.
After a rigorous offseason of prepping equipment, building a relationship with the crew, and adapting to the new environment in general, Swanson and the Nolen team were thrown into the proverbial heat of the fire at March’s season opener in Memphis, Tenn.
During Friday’s practice that weekend, Swanson practiced both of Nolen’s cars. They had their primary car pulled apart on pit lane during the session after a brand-new driveshaft dealt them trouble. Meanwhile, the team pulled out their backup and Swanson put some laps on it to make sure it was ready to run.
Swanson jumped back into the primary with a new driveshaft and proceeded to set the fastest lap of the afternoon.
Fast forward to race day on Saturday, and Swanson took to practice back in the primary before encountering what he described as a fluke engine part issue.
Nolen once again had to roll the backup car out, where they tweaked on the chassis to get it to where Swanson felt it was at its best. In qualifying, Swanson promptly put it on the pole position.
Come race time, after dropping back following an early-race lead, Swanson dug his way back to lead the final 20 laps and score the victory.
“I’m exhausted; I’m elated; I don’t even know what to feel,” Swanson exclaimed at the time. “I’m very grateful. I haven’t been to my day job since Tuesday. I could see the writing on the wall that we were already in a corner then. We had guys that were there into the wee hours of the morning with me almost every night this week, then back at it the next day, just digging for all we were worth to be ready.
“We got one ready and dug deep enough to get the other one ready just in case,” he added. “You hate to think you’d ever have a failure and need it, but we did, and it was ready to come in off the bench and do a great job for us.”
Granted, any victory is difficult to come by. Yet, Swanson always seems to make it look relatively easily, although the backstories certainly tell a different tale, as was the case in round two at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway in April.
On the road, a team’s work setting may become a parking lot, as it was with Swanson and Nolen in the Buckeye State.
“The Nolen Racing 20 and everybody that’s involved is just digging harder and harder,” Swanson explained. “Yesterday, we worked in the parking lot for six-and-a-half hours before the rain came to make sure we’d be ready.
“Whether we liked it or not at the time, it’s the kind of stuff like that that gives you a chance to finish 100 laps and a chance to win on race day.”
Swanson did just that as the class of the field once again, winning the pole and wiring all 100 laps to capture his second-straight victory to begin the year at the Rollie Beale Classic.
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