Portrait of A Champion and Family

Episode 79

November 1, 2015

Smoke pouring off the right rear of the #63 Kody Swanson USAC Silver Crown car followed by #71 Shane Cockrum. Season finale at Syracuse Fairgrounds in October. Swanson won the race for the second year straight. Photo courtesy Paul Murphy Photography

Smoke pouring off the right rear of the #63 Kody Swanson USAC Silver Crown car followed by #71 Shane Cockrum. Season finale at Syracuse Fairgrounds in October. Swanson won the race for the second year straight. Photo courtesy Paul Murphy Photography

Swanson the Open Wheel Racer

I do not believe in coincidences. Looking back to that day in August 2005 when I was reading the Rising Stars column by Rocky Entriken in the National Speed Sport News. Entriken was telling about 17 year old Kody Swanson from Kingsburg, California.

What caught my eye was that the young man was actively involved in the FFA the student organization for agriculture education. He had a 4.0 average and was serving as chapter president. His goal was to attend Cal Poly upon graduation from Kingsburg High School.

I eventually made contact with Swanson’s Dad, Mike. After conversing with him I kept my eye on the career of Kody and his younger brother Tanner.

Eventually I met Kody in person at Lucas Oil Raceway in Claremont, Indiana when he was racing USAC midgets and sprint cars. In fact the cover photo on my blog is Kody in a USAC Silver Crown car at that track.

Over the course of the next few years I had the opportunity to introduce many of my FFA members to Kody when we attended the National FFA Convention. Kody gave us tours of his race shop, allowed us to race with him and Tanner at a “slippery track” kart facility just outside Indy, and greeted us at the FFA Career Show at the convention.

What I noticed about Swanson was his friendliness, intelligence, and humble spirit. Some race car drivers are shallow and can be coarse. It was difficult to imagine that Swanson was a tough racer who often was fastest qualifier and lead more laps than fellow competitors.

Swanson said, “My first year of racing was 2000, in the Junior Sprint division at Plaza Park Raceway. I had just turned 12 years old. At 14, I began racing against adults in their Stock 600 Micro Sprint division, and won my first Track Championship racing 100 cc junior sprints at 12.” (This is in the Fresno and Bakersfield area in the San Joaquin Valley).

Swanson, the son of Mike and Darla, grew up on the family farm where they grew corn, alfalfa, and tree fruit.

A valued member of the local FFA chapter, Swanson’s team won a judging contest at the California State Convention with Swanson as the top scoring individual.  He was unable to attend the awards banquet because he raced that night at Madera Speedway in the Keith Williams owned Grand American Modified. Swanson became the youngest driver to win with a victory that evening.

Swanson gives much credit for his success to his membership in the FFA, ” I think so. I felt like I learned so much in FFA that could be applied to any career, and I think that even racing fits in some ways.”

“FFA helped me to learn to balance a difficult schedule, plan ahead to be prepared for whatever task or event was coming up next, and to follow through, learn to get better and improve for next time. Whether it was raising and showing Market Hogs or driving sprint cars, I felt like a lot of those basic lessons translated really well.”

2005 was Swanson’s first full season racing the USAC Western Sprint Car Series. He won the championship, Rookie-of-the-Year honors, and Fastest Qualifier Award.

He won his first USAC National Midget race April 16, 2008 at Southern National Raceway Park in Kenly, North Carolina.

Swanson earned the USAC Silver Crown Rookie-of-the-Year award in 2010.  In the meantime he moved to Zionsville, Indiana after marrying his high school sweetheart Jordan in April 2011. The move allowed them to be close to the hot bed of open wheel racing in the midwest.

Let’s fast forward to 2014 when Swanson won his first USAC Silver Crown Championship driving the DePalmaMotorsports Radio Hospital-Hampshire Racing Engines Maxim Chevy. (That’s a mouthful). When he came up into the open wheel ranks the pundits were saying he was a pavement racer. In 2014 and 2015 he won all the races held at one-mile dirt tracks (Indiana State Fairgrounds, Illinois State Fairgrounds, and New York State Fairgrounds).

Swanson Family and DePalma Motorsports crew in Victory Circle at New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. Photo courtesy Swanson Brothers-TK Motorsports

Swanson Family and DePalma Motorsports crew in Victory Circle at New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. Photo courtesy Swanson Brothers-TK Motorsports

I asked Kody to share some thoughts on winning the USAC Silver Crown two years in a row?

“What a neat experience, and a great opportunity to be working with the team and people that I am”, said Swanson. “We have all really fit together well the last two seasons, and everyone works so hard together to be prepared for these races. We’ve been really fortunate to have fast race cars each race and a lot of luck to go along the way.”

“The Silver Crown series was something I had worked toward for so long, and it was great to finally reach those goals and win the Championship. To have done it twice has really been great, and I’m very thankful for everyone’s effort that made it possible.”

When you began did you think you could master the dirt tracks after being a pavement guy?

“I still don’t feel like I’ve mastered the dirt, but I working hard to get better,” replied Swanson. “I finally started to feel more comfortable on dirt after getting a little more practice in dirt sprint cars, and getting used to that feeling before our dirt silver crown events. We’ve been fortunate and had some good races in the last two years, but I still feel I need to improve and am trying to learn more each race. ”

How busy was the 2015 racing season? “It somewhere around 10, between the different types and different teams, and somewhere around 55-60 total races. I’d almost guess that was the highest number of races I’ve ran in a single season. (Silver Crown dirt, Silver Crown pavement, Non Wing Pavement Sprint, Wing Pavement Sprint, Non Wing Dirt Sprint (4 teams), Wing Dirt Sprint (2 teams)).”

When asked how he felt about racing against his brother Tanner, Swanson replied, “Tanner and I have had different driving styles growing up, and I feel like he has helped me to be more confident and aggressive early in races. We really had a lot of fun getting to grow up racing together.”

“Tanner is a Credit Analyst for Golden State Farm Credit, and runs his own graphic design business, the Top Shelf Design Company.”

I asked fellow competitor Shane Cockrum about Kody. He replied, “I came into the Crown Series knowing Kody was an accomplished pavement racer, and really probably one of the top five in the country.”

“But I also knew that he was green on the dirt and as I got into the Crown Series, I knew he was already a winner but kinda maybe won it on being smart, which he is. I’ve always considered myself to be the smart racer too and maybe that’s why we have both come from running 15th to battling for the win every show,”

“I don’t know, but in the racing world its generally said that you can slow a guy down but you can’t speed him up. it think we are living proof that being methodical and making the brain and foot work together and not just stomp and steer is the way to victory lane in the series.”

“I consider him one of the smartest drivers I know.  He races clean and he is really  on top of his game.  It is fun to race him and I feel like we are playing chess while most of the others are playing checkers.”

“Looking forward to more spirited battles with him if someone doesn’t end up getting smart and sending him up the line to stock cars.”

I asked one of the finest motorsports writers that I know, Dave Argabright, to share his thoughts about Swanson. Argabright said, “Kody has made an amazing transition over the past few years and he’s shown himself to be a great racer on dirt as well as his native pavement.”

“It’s been really cool to watch what he’s done with the No. 63 team. Seeing that car in victory lane again is a great thing, because of the extensive history the car has with USAC.”

“Kody is one of those guys who is low-key away from the track and sometimes you forget that he’s an aggressive and tough racer once he climbs into the race car. It really is a neat story how he has made such an impact on the Silver Crown Series.”

Behind every successful man is a great woman so I had Kody’s wife Jordan comment about the season, how they met, and their family.

“It is truly rewarding to see Kody’s hard work and dedication to racing and the Silver Crown series pay off, ” said Swanson. “His love for Silver Crown cars is incredible.”

“Teaming up with the DePalma Family and Bob Hampshire in the #63 part time in 2013, then full time in 2014-15 has been nothing short of amazing. Their love and dedication to the sport parallels Kody’s, and I can’t imagine a better situation”.

“Everyone involved in this team is an integral part of the success they’ve had. They truly are the definition of a team. I couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments and look forward to another season in 2016!”

“Kody and I met in high school (Kingsburg High School, Kingsburg, CA) and started dating in 2005. We also went to college together (California State University Fresno).”

“I had never been to a race of Kody’s, or really any races for that matter, until we started dating. My, how times have changed…10 years later, it’s hard to imagine myself away from a track on the weekends!”

Jordan and Kody Swanson  expecting the birth of their son near Christmas this year. Photo courtesy Kody Swanson

Jordan and Kody Swanson expecting the birth of their son near Christmas this year. Photo courtesy Kody Swanson

The Swanson’s are expecting their first child near Christmas this year. “We are very excited about the new addition to our little family this Christmas,” said Jordan! “No doubt that he will be Kody’s biggest fan.”

Kody replied, “Jordan and I are very excited for the arrival of our little one, but I have to say I am nervous, but I think I should be. This will change our lives forever, and it will be the most important job we have going forward, and is something to take seriously, be we are definitely excited and looking forward to it!”

I think you can see why I cherish this family.

I Need Your Help

1) With the news that Austin hit the wall and broke his Hans Device thus allowing his helmet to hit the steering wheel after the wheel was driven into the cockpit, does anyone know of any other incident where this occurred? Thank God for His protection over this young driver!

2) Still have no offers to pay for my airfare to Indianapolis in December to attend the Performance Racing Industries (PRI) Show. 🙂

Any comments or offers email me at thale@reagan.com.

Let’s Go Racing!

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing.