By Richie Murray
Oregon, Wisconsin………On September 10, 1988, car No. 63 wheeled by Jack Hewitt and wrenched by Bob Hampshire recorded their ninth career USAC Silver Crown victory in the “Hoosier Hundred” at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, surpassing Gary Bettenhausen to become the series’ winningest driver.
Thirty years later, much has changed in the world around us. The internet has transformed how we exchange information and the smart phone/iPhone has completely altered the way we interact with each other.
But in the world of Silver Crown racing, the landscape has been relatively unaltered. Sure, mechanical advances have been made, round noses aren’t as aplenty, and the safety of the cars have improved by leaps and bounds.
However, when you look at the front of the pack, what do you see? There it is – car No. 63 wrenched by Bob Hampshire winning, winning and then also winning some more.
Furthermore, since that afternoon of Hewitt’s victory three decades ago, every time you’ve glanced atop the leaderboard in terms of Silver Crown career wins, the name Jack Hewitt has stood head and shoulders above the competition.
This Friday at Madison International Speedway’s Bytec “Dairyland 100,” another name could join Hewitt on the topline: Kody Swanson. The Kingsburg, California native needs just one more win to equal Hewitt’s mark, which eventually climbed to 23 with his final series victory in 2000 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
Swanson stands at 22 coming into Madison and the question coming into the season was whether the 2014, 2015 and 2017 champ could reach the mark by the end of the 2018 season. Swanson certainly hasn’t wasted any time chopping down win after win in the last three races.
Kody’s unbeaten streak includes a complete sweep of all three events in May at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway, the Indiana State Fairgrounds and Brownsburg, Indiana’s Lucas Oil Raceway. In the first two races of the season, Swanson finished second. That kind of consistency has led to his massive 99-point advantage in the standings just one race shy of passing the halfway point of the season.
The thing is he’s been in contention to win all five races run thus far in 2018. He led 14 laps in the opener at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz. before Santos got by for the victory with 21 laps remaining before finishing 2nd. On the dirt of Indiana’s Terre Haute Action Track, Swanson took the lead late in the 100-lapper before being involved in an accident. Yet, he still came back from the tail, finishing 2nd, and was closing in the final laps, to winner Justin Grant.
During the three-race win streak, Swanson started 9th at Toledo (Ohio) Speedway, took the lead on lap 40 from Jerry Coons, Jr. and led the final 61 laps. He started from the pole at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and led 73 laps on his way to a fourth-straight “Hoosier Hundred” victory, something only Al Unser had accomplished before. In the most recent battle at Lucas Oil Raceway, Swanson led all but the first lap from the pole, but had to fight off his brother, Tanner, who started from the 22nd position and was hounding Kody throughout much of the race.
The sky is the limit for Kody when it comes to how many records he can establish. Incredibly, the man also owns 19 career 2nd place finishes in the series, which means he has finished in top-2 in 41 of his 88 career starts for a nearly 47% average. Hewitt has the second-highest quotient of top-two finishes with 32, but he did it in 163 starts for a near 20% average.
Swanson is one away, but he has quite a bit of competition that’s more than willing to use their right foot as a hindrance to his bid for history this Friday in the series’ debut at Madison this Friday night.
Bobby Santos of Franklin, Massachusetts won the season opener in Phoenix, then proceeded to reel off a 2nd at Toledo and a 4th at LOR. Leading Rookie Travis Welpott (Pendleton, Ind.) slots in at the 7th spot coming in. Matt Goodnight (Winchester, Ind.), Austin Nemire (Sylvania, Ohio) and USAC Triple Crown champ Jerry Coons, Jr. (Tucson, Ariz.) occupy the remainder of the top-ten.
Greenfield, Indiana’s Eric Gordon checks in at the 11th spot in the series’ standings, returning to USAC Silver Crown series after a handful of years’ absence from the track. The nine-time “Little 500” champ has one Silver Crown victory to his credit, back at the Milwaukee Mile in 1990.
Gordon is the lone past Silver Crown winner in the state of Wisconsin expected to compete at Madison. He’s part of a list of Wisconsin Silver Crown winners, all at Milwaukee, which includes George Snider (1988), Mike Bliss (1993), Jay Drake (2004), Dave Steele (2005), Wayne Reutimann, Jr. (2006) and Bobby East (2011).
Madison is the 44th different track to host a Silver Crown event in its 48th season of competition. However, the half-mile paved oval has hosted a smattering of USAC races over the decades. The National Sprint Cars have competed twice with Larry Dickson taking the top honors in 1970 and Dave Steele capturing the checkered flag in the most recent USAC appearance in 1997.
The National Midgets have raced at Madison on five occasions with the legendary Mel Kenyon sweeping all three in 1969 and Gary Bettenhausen winning the following year in 1970. Jimmy McCune was the most recent victor, picking up the midget portion of the USAC doubleheader in 1997.
Pits open at 3:30pm. The drivers meeting will take place at 4:30pm. Two practice sessions will hit the track from 5:20pm to 5:45pm and from 6:05pm to 6:30pm. Front gates open at 6pm. Qualifying is scheduled to begin at 6:35pm with racing action set for 7:30pm.
Adult tickets are $20. Seniors age 62+ are $18. Students age 12-17 are $10. Children age 6-11 are $5. Children 5 and under are free.
Catch the race audio LIVE on the USAC app or watch a day later, on-demand at http://www.Loudpedal.TV/.
BYTEC “DAIRYLAND 100” ENTRY LIST:
2 PATRICK LAWSON/Edwardsville, IL (Patrick Lawson)
6 KYLE HAMILTON/Danville, IN (Klatt Enterprises)
7 (R) KYLE ROBBINS/New Castle, IN (KR Racing)
16 AUSTIN NEMIRE/Sylvania, OH (Nemire-Lesko Racing)
17 CHRIS WINDOM/Canton, IL (Gene Nolen Racing)
18 (R) TRAVIS WELPOTT/Pendleton, IN (Welpott Racing)
20 JERRY COONS, JR./Tucson, AZ (Gene Nolen Racing)
21 ERIC GORDON/Greenfield, IN (Armstrong Racing)
22 BOBBY SANTOS/Franklin, MA (DJ Racing)
26 AARON PIERCE/Muncie, IN (Sam Pierce)
32 DAVE DARLAND/Lincoln, IN (Williams & Wright Racing)
39 MATT GOODNIGHT/Winchester, IN (Goodnight Racing)
40 DAVID BYRNE/Shullsburg, WI (Byrne Racing)
63 KODY SWANSON/Kingsburg, CA (DePalma Motorsports)
80 (R) TONI BREIDINGER/Hillsborough, CA (Breidinger Racing)
91 JUSTIN GRANT/Ione, CA (Hemelgarn Racing)
92 (R) JIM ANDERSON/Joliet, IL (Gene Kazmark)
96 (R) AUSTIN BLAIR/Fairview Heights, IL (Blair Racing)
124 (R) MIKE HAGGENBOTTOM/Levittown, PA (Haggenbottom Racing)
131 (R) DEREK BISCHAK/Angola, IN (Derek Bischak)
(R) represents a USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series Rookie of the Year contender.