Livin’ After Midnight: Swanson Rocks Lincoln Park for First USAC Indiana Sprint Week Win

Twenty-four hours after lying upside down in a heap of disappointment with a destroyed racecar, Jake Swanson and Team AZ Racing were back on their feet, so to speak, on Thursday night at Putnamville, Indiana’s Lincoln Park Speedway.
Armed with another car from the team’s stable that was prepared on blazing hot Thursday afternoon through a combination of blood, sweat and tears – but mostly sweat – the Anaheim, Calif. native 180’d from the previous night’s Terre Haute disappointment to win his first career USAC NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week Presented By Honest Abe Roofing feature event.
The timeline of events that transpired between the events at Terre Haute and Lincoln Park are a microcosm of the tug-of-war of emotions the team has experienced. In the six Indiana Sprint Week events contested thus far, Swanson has three finishes of 16th or worse, plus a 2nd, an 8th and now a victory in his Team AZ Racing/Racing For Autism Awareness – Apache Transport/DRC/1-Way Chevy.
Wednesday’s Terre Haute round was undoubtedly the team’s most discouraging moment of the week thus far, crashing and writing off a racecar while running third after leading eight laps.
However, Thursday’s triumphant performance turned out to be the team’s most rewarding, which arrived after the clock had already struck midnight due to a two-plus hour rain delay that doused the 5/16-mile dirt oval with excessive moisture. Together, everyone achieved more, and finally, they were rewarded with their initial Indiana Sprint Week victory.
“We crashed last night at Terre Haute, and it was all on me,” Swanson admitted. “I was just trying too hard, and these guys have worked their (tails) off trying to get a car back together and get this thing ready. Tonight, we struggled with brake problems, and (the crew) just continued to work through the heat. I think they sweated through about three t-shirts each.”
Swanson started the 30-lap, $8,000-to-win main event from the outside of the front row, but quickly gained the upper hand on the opening lap as he scooted around the outside of pole sitter Logan Seavey to grab the lead while Seavey slotted into second with Kevin Thomas Jr. closing in from the third position.
The top-three remained in formation as lapped traffic loomed for the frontrunners on lap 10. With Swanson slightly roadblocked, that allowed Seavey and Thomas Jr. to chop down a 1.5 second deficit. One lap later, on the 11th circuit, Thomas found the inside edge to swipe second place from Seavey on the bottom of turns three and four.
Thomas Jr. rapidly ascended toward the forefront of the field and managed to pull even with Swanson for the race lead on the 13th lap. As Thomas Jr. and Swanson surrounded Hunter Maddox to put him a lap down, Thomas Jr. suddenly began to slow dramatically and pulled to the infield after the engine simply lost power, ending his bid for s first USAC win of 2023 and car owner Dwight Cheney’s first ever USAC score.
With Thomas Jr. out of the picture, it still wasn’t quite clear sailing for Swanson. Seavey suddenly found a resurgence and began to chase down Swanson and had closed to within a car length of the lead by lap 18. With 11 laps to go, however, the merry-go-round came to a halt when 10th running Mitchel Moles spun sideways in turn four, then was clipped by the trailing car driven by Briggs Danner, resulting in a knocked-out front end for Moles and a 21st place feature result.
Under the yellow, second running Seavey abruptly exited the racetrack, like Thomas Jr., also experiencing a sudden loss of power under the hood that promptly ended the team’s night. That moved Ballou up to the second spot behind Swanson for the restart where he promptly took several peeks to the inside of Swanson with as he clamped down right on Swanson’s back bumper.
Current Indiana Sprint Week point leader and defending champ Justin Grant shuffled to the third spot with a slick move under Chase Stockon on the lap 20 restart. Brady Bacon, second in the ISW standings, followed suit past Stockon for fourth on lap 22. Bacon continued to surge and snagged the third spot when Grant slipped up the surface in turn four on the 27th lap.
All the while, up front, it was a race between the resilient Swanson and Ballou, both of whom endured major incidents the night before at Terre Haute and who had both experienced their fair share of tumultuous trials and tribulations throughout the grueling week.
Swanson’s ride was smooth and easy like an (early) Friday morning as he kept Ballou at arm’s length throughout the final 10 laps to thwart the pressure, winning by a 0.344 second margin for his fourth points-paying USAC National Sprint Car victory of his career and his sixth overall, tying him for 76th all-time alongside Chad Boespflug, Kevin Briscoe, Shane Cottle, Jac Haudenschild, Jason McCord, Jan Opperman, Tom Sneva, George Snider and Dick Tobias.
Coming home second was Robert Ballou with Brady Bacon third, Justin Grant fourth and Chase Stockon fifth.
Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) equaled both his best Indiana Sprint Week and USAC National Sprint Car performance of the season with a second-place result in his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy. The 2015 Indiana Sprint Week champ also finished as the runner-up during last Friday’s ISW opener at Gas City I-69 Speedway.
Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) remained in close quarters in pursuit of his first Indiana Sprint Week championship since 2016. Bacon gained a pivotal position from Grant just three laps from the finish line to earn a third-place result in his Dynamics, Inc./Apex Spa Service – Tel-Star Technologies /Triple X/Rider Chevy. Bacon now sits just four points behind Grant in the ISW title race with two races remaining on Friday at Bloomington Speedway and on Saturday at Tri-State Speedway.
A rare feat occurred during the Honest Abe Roofing Qualifying session when Brady Bacon and Mitchel Moles posted identical fast times of 12.370 seconds. Based on the tiebreaker of each driver’s fastest “other lap,” Bacon received the nod as the quickest qualifier. For Bacon, it was his 46th career fast qualifying time in USAC National Sprint Car competition, which ranks fourth all-time behind Tom Bigelow (65), Dave Darland (62) and Tracy Hines (60).