From Linda Masfield
BROWNSBURG, Ind., June 22 — It was sort of like David versus Goliath.
Nolen Racing’s Kody Swanson drove the only V6-powered car in the field to victory Saturday night in the inaugural Indy Summer Nationals for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series presented by Engine Pro on the 0.686-mile asphalt oval at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
And it had a made-for-the-movies finish.
Since the coronavirus postponed the start of the 2020 season, it was the team’s first race since the death of its founder, Gene Nolen of Greenwood, Ind., on April 8, and he dearly loved his Tranter-prepared Chevrolet V6 engines. The Whiteland, Ind.-based team, now led by Nolen’s son, Greg, is racing this year in his memory.
And Gene would have loved both the challenge and the outcome.
The No. 22A of Bobby Santos III of Franklin, Mass., who is often Swanson’s key rival, was a few milliseconds faster than Swanson’s yellow No. 4 in every session of the two-day show. Saturday’s 30-lap feature ended up being a battle of two titans, as each sought for the fastest line around the track in their particular car, and each had its strong points. Strategy definitely was important.
The top four of the 26 starters were inverted for the start, so Swanson, of Zionsville, Ind., started third and Santos fourth. Swanson thought it would be better to make his rivals pass him if possible, and he was able to charge under the two drivers ahead of him and take the lead going into Turn 1 on the first lap.
Santos was right behind him by lap two, and he stayed about 0.2 of a second behind Swanson for the first 13 laps. Swanson and Santos both set their fastest laps of the race on lap four, with Santos clocked in 21.532 seconds and Swanson 0.060 slower in 21.592.
They were already lapping the back of the field by lap seven.
Swanson’s skilled handling of lapped traffic allowed him to extend his lead to 0.412 of a second by lap 14, 0.678 of a second by lap 15, and 0.972 of a second by lap 16. He put a whole second between he and Santos on lap 17, 1.328 seconds to be exact, only to lose that advantage immediately when a yellow waved with 17 laps complete after Nick Hamilton and Caleb Armstrong crashed in Turn 2. They were both surveying the damage to their cars when the polesitter, Russ Gamester, who had been third, pitted with mechanical difficulties.
The restart was double file, and Swanson chose the inside groove. Santos went around him on the frontstretch for the lead on the restart, although Swanson was able to keep close. He was just 0.256 behind Santos on lap 20, with 10 laps remaining.
The pair was side by side on lap 22, and Swanson was only 0.097 behind Santos on lap 23. Swanson’s hard work paid off once again when he was able to take the lead working lap 24 in Turn 2, but again it was all for naught when the driver who was tenth, Ronnie Wuerdeman, spun to bring out a second yellow flag and Swanson had to give the position back. Before another lap could be recorded there was a third yellow when Bobby Komasarski spun on the backstretch.
The delay built the anticipation up even more.
This time the restart was single file. Santos was 0.090 of a second ahead of Swanson when lap 24 was finally completed. Swanson kept the pressure up, and on lap 26 he took the lead once again, this time getting under Santos in Turn 2. Remarkably he was able to not only stretch that to over a second by lap 29, he had a 1.859-second margin of victory over Santos at the checkered. Kyle O’Gara, Tyler Roahrig and Chris Neuenschwander rounded out the top five.
“This win is for Gene,” Swanson said in victory lane. “Gene loved these V6s. This team is like the little engine that could. They said, “I think we can win.’ And we did! I want to thank Bobby Santos for being a good competitor and running me so clean. I ran him really hard, but I really wanted this one. We raced hard but we didn’t touch.
“This team never quits,” he continued. “I didn’t know how this was going to turn out, but I didn’t have any doubt about this team, because they don’t give up! We made changes after every session just trying our best to get the car as good as possible. I’m just so glad we were able to get a victory for Gene; we all miss him very much. I know he would have loved this one!”
The race was broadcast live on MustSeeRacing.TV.
Earlier in the day Swanson won the second sprint heat. He started sixth in the eight-lap race, but he was fourth by the end of lap one, third by the end of lap two, and second by the end of lap three. He took the lead by slipping under Nick Hamilton in Turn 3 on lap four, right before a yellow waved when Bobby Komasarski did a 360-degree spin and continued. Swanson set the fastest lap of anyone in the race on lap seven with a time of 22.073 seconds, and he had a 2.740-second margin of victory over Hamilton at the checkered.
In qualifying he placed second to Santos with a lap in 21.501 seconds, just 0.300 off Santos’s best lap. Billy Wease was third fastest with a 21.612.
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