ANDERSON, Ind., May 27 — After literally years of trying, team owner Gene Nolen of Greenwood, Ind. got his first victory in the biggest asphalt sprint car race in the world Saturday night when Kody Swanson drove one of his V6 Chevys to victory in the 70th annual Pay Less Supermarkets Little 500 presented by UAW GM at Anderson Speedway before a packed house.
To make the night even sweeter for the Little 500 Hall of Fame team owner, another Nolen Racing entry driven by Shane Hollingsworth of Lafayette, Ind., finished third for the Whiteland, Ind.-based team which is sponsored in part by KECO Coatings and Indy Race Parts and uses engines prepared by Bill Tranter of Franklin, Ind.
Swanson, a native of Kingsburg, Calif. who now lives in Zionsville, Ind., overcame a spin and came from two laps down to post a 2-second victory over Jacob Wilson of Crawfordsville, Ind., at the checkered to earn the $25,000 top prize from a $125,150 purse. The event is sanctioned by Must See Racing and the United States Speed Association (USSA).Hollingsworth was one lap down at the end but four laps ahead of the fourth-place finisher, Mickey Kempgens. Scotty Hampton was fifth followed by Chris Windom, Brian Gerster, Caleb Armstrong, Kenny Schrader and Shane Cottle.
Thirty-three starters comprising the fastest field in the event’s history tackled the taunting task of completing 500 laps around the one-quarter mile oval while also having quick pit stops, since one stop in each half of the race is mandatory.
Swanson started fourth and Hollingsworth started tenth.
A third Nolen Racing entry driven by Jerry Coons Jr. of Greencastle, Ind., qualified eighth, but something broke on that car and it lost a wheel, forcing Coons to drop out with 108 laps compete for a 28th-place finish.
Hollingsworth took the lead around lap 243 after leader Aaron Pierce pitted under yellow and then dropped out with mechanical difficulties. Bobby Santos III was second and Swanson was third on the ensuing restart around lap 248, and around lap 285 Hollingsworth had a one-lap lead.
Around lap 300 Santos spun and hit the wall in Turn 2 to advance Swanson to second, but he was still one lap down. Hollingsworth pitted under that yellow around lap 302, which gave the lead to Swanson and put Hollingsworth back to fourth place, but Hollingsworth was able to work his way back to third by lap 330. By that time Wilson was second.
About 20 laps later Swanson had built up a six-second lead over Wilson, but Wilson consistently cut that gap down and by lap 370 Swanson’s lead was only 4.251 seconds.
Wilson used lapped traffic to take the lead from Swanson on lap 382. Hollingsworth was still third.
All was not well with Swanson, however. His tires weren’t as fresh as his rivals’ and his car was loose, and he spun by himself between Turns 1 and 2 on lap 411. Both he and Wilson pitted under that yellow, and two laps later Hollingsworth took the lead from Wilson while Swanson watched from third place, now two laps down.
Another yellow flew around lap 433 when Brian Gerster stopped on the backstretch. That helped Swanson get one lap back and put him on the same lap as Wilson, although Hollingsworth was still one lap ahead of both of them.
But Hollingsworth’s tires weren’t as fresh as Swanson’s or Wilson’s, and around lap 457 both Wilson and Swanson passed Hollingsworth to put the top three all on the same lap, although Hollingsworth still led.Swanson passed Wilson for second around lap 470 with a move to the inside between Turns 1 and 2. He took the lead from Hollingsworth on lap 478 and Wilson came with him, and the trio finished in that order at the checkered for one of the most dramatic runs in Little 500 history.
Swanson set the second-fastest lap of the race on lap 448 with a time of 11.553 to polesitter Davey Hamilton Jr.’s fastest lap overall of 11.441 on lap five.
Coons had the seventh-fastest lap of the race on lap eight with a 11.718. Hollingsworth had the 11th-fastest lap of the race on lap six with a 11.786.
“We just didn’t give up,” said Swanson, who also won this race in 2016. “We got loose and I got tired, and did a spin. I messed up a little, but we never gave up. What an incredible team! Everyone on the 20 and the 3 put everything into it.
“Shane did a great job; he’s like my brother; he doesn’t race much, but he put it on us, as did Jacob Wilson. I’m afraid if I take a deep breath I’ll fall over!”
“Getting beaten by Kody Swanson is kind of common right now,” said Wilson, since this was Swanson’s third victory in as many nights. He also won two USAC Silver Crown races on Thursday and Friday.
“This was by far our best total run,” said Hollingsworth. “In the middle part of the race my car was a rocket ship. We had a great first stop. We tightened it up after the second stint and took a little too much stagger out, but I’m so happy to see two of Gene’s cars in the top three.”
“Yes, this was for Gene,” the happy winner confirmed.
The race will be broadcast on MAVTV on July 11. Check local listings for specific times.
Nolen Racing’s complete schedule can be found on its Web site at nolenracing.com and its Facebook page. It’s also on Twitter. For information on marketing partnerships, contact Restart Communications at LKMRestart@gmail.com. USAC’s Web site is at usacracing.com.