SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Jake Swanson will contest the full USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Series schedule this year as the driver of the Team AZ Racing No. 21az.
Swanson, who recently moved from Anaheim, Calif., to Danville, Ind., made 13 feature starts on the National tour with six top-10 finishes and a best result of fourth in his season debut at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track on July 1 while also garnering a ProSource fast qualifying time in the season finale at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway on Oct. 3.
Swanson’s career includes a USAC West Coast Sprint championship in 2017, plus feature victories in USAC’s CRA, Southwest and West Coast Sprint Car divisions as well as the Western States Midgets.
“To me, it’s everything. It’s a dream come true,” Swanson said regarding running the USAC National Sprint schedule. “To be honest, I never really thought it would happen and it probably wouldn’t have happened if not for (COVID-19) and a lot of good people behind me that helped me see this through and make the dream a reality, one being my wife and the other being Larry Henry, and obviously my race team for basically giving us the stuff to run the operation.”
Swanson has been burning the candle at both ends as he simultaneously juggles remodeling his new house he shares with his wife, Jessica, a 2011 USAC Western Ford Focus Pavement Midget and USAC California South Ford Focus Midget champion herself, plus crew man Justin Grau. He’s also in the process of building up his shop, constructing race cars and preparing for his busiest race season yet.
“We jumped in with both feet for sure; it’s baptism by fire,” Swanson said with a laugh. “I knew it was going to be a long road to hoe as far as remodeling the house. I’ve never done a full house remodel. I’ve never bought a house. I’ve never owned a house. I’ve never had all the race team stuff in one place. So, it’s a lot, but it’s definitely something that I knew I could tackle, but I’m honestly just faking it ‘til I make it when it comes to the house stuff.”
Swanson has two sprint cars coming together for the USAC season for the team owned by John Grau and Mike Burkhart, who will serve as the crew chief. Getting the house projects completed is the main focus at the moment before it’s full-on into race mode and back to getting work done on the race cars for the season openers Feb. 11-13 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.
Swanson put everything he had to move his family, his racing career and his life to move to Indiana, and without much money left over to hire out for work. He’s of the mindset that he has to figure it out. He just installed new floors Monday for the first time and, with his racing operation, will put his head together with the team to get the job done the way they know how, although Swanson admits there is always a learning process.
“The biggest thing for us, I don’t know if you call it work ethic, stupidity or whatever, we’re really stubborn when it comes to this stuff,” Swanson admitted. “Number one, we want to figure it out ourselves and not hire a Midwest crew chief or pay for knowledge and stuff like that. It’s one thing to ask and get a little bit of help and direction, so to speak, but it’s another thing to hire a race team to come out here and hire a Midwest driver and be good, or a race team to hire a Midwest crew chief and be good. We kind of want to do it ourselves and we want to figure it out ourselves, and I think we’re smart enough to do it. I think we have the potential. I think we have the equipment. We have everything in place to do it. It’s just a matter of doing it and making it happen.”
Swanson’s career includes 45 career USAC National Sprint Car feature starts, most coming on the series’ annual trips to the west coast throughout the past decade. This year will serve as another new experience as he visits many of the venues on the schedule for the first time.
With that experience and mixing in local non-USAC-sanctioned shows with car owner Joe Daming, Swanson is going to be a student this year as he gains that valuable experience.
This is not something Swanson expects to jump into and win races right away even though that’s what he aims to accomplish each night he straps in and tightens the belts.
“It’s going to take a while,” Swanson acknowledges. “It’s a learning process. All we knew were tracks in California and the west coast in general, so we were really not good when we first came out here. What we learned is that the Midwest tracks are less momentum oriented. Out west, the tracks are a little bit more round; you can carry more speed and you can be tighter because the race tracks don’t hold as much grip. But here, everything is more stop and go. I feel like that threw us for a loop.”
In his younger years, Swanson looked up to west coast sprint car heroes Tony Jones and Cory Kruseman and watching videos of legends Lealand McSpadden and Bubby Jones, all of whom he aspired to be one day. Now he’s here on the National scene and he feels he’s truly arrived.
“To me, sprint car racing is the purest form of motorsports, and I wanted to be good at it,” Swanson said. “I didn’t really have any aspirations to do anything else. Sprint Car racing is what I’ve always wanted to do. Ever since I saw 410 c.i. sprint cars go around (California’s) Perris Auto Speedway, it was like, ‘this is the baddest form of racing there is,’ and I feel like these guys are the best and I wanted to do that. I’m glad that we’re here, I’m glad that it happened and that it worked out the way it did. I know I’m going to be successful. I just need to figure it out and just do it.”