Silver Crown
Tuesday, 6 December 2016


Kody Swanson, in the DePalma Motorsports #63, battles alongside 2016 USAC Silver Crown driver champion Chris Windon in the Joe James/Pat O'Connor Memorial" at Salem (Ind.) Speedway in August. Kody Swanson, in the DePalma Motorsports #63, battles alongside 2016 USAC Silver Crown driver champion Chris Windon in the Joe James/Pat O'Connor Memorial" at Salem (Ind.) Speedway in August. Neil Cavanah Photo


By: Richie Murray – USAC Media

Throughout much of the past three decades, the familiar white No. 63 has been a fixture up front in USAC’s Silver Crown division.

First gaining notoriety in 1986 with the winningest driver in the history of the Silver Crown Series, Jack Hewitt, at the controls, the 63 has had one constant turning the wrenches throughout the evolving iterations of the team in the 1980s, 90s, 2000s and 10s: Bob Hampshire.

Thirty Silver Crown wins have been guided by the trusty hands of the National Sprint Car Hall of Famer, including back-to-back team titles in 1986 and 1987 and now three-straight in the three most recent seasons after claiming this year’s crown with Kody Swanson.

This past year had a bit different feeling to it than did 2014 and 2015, though, as the 2016 owner’s title was slightly bittersweet as Swanson and the DePalma Motorsports team came just five points short of claiming a third consecutive driver’s title as well.

Nonetheless, the season was another one for the record books as DePalma Motorsports became just the second team to ever win three Silver Crown owner championships in a row.  Only the Bob East/Tony Stewart team put together a longer streak, claiming four straight titles from 2002-2005 with drivers J.J. Yeley and Dave Steele.

The season commenced with a solid third-place run by Kody at Indiana’s Terre Haute Action Track in April prior to heading into the 62nd running of the “Hoosier Hundred” at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in May – an event in which Swanson and the DePalmas had taken a firm grasp of during the previous two years.

Swanson bided his time, but the team’s methodical, precise charge to the front put him in position to overtake Shane Cottle for the lead with two-thirds of the 100-lap race complete.  In the end, Swanson became just the third driver to win the “Hoosier Hundred” on three straight occasions, joining Jimmy Bryan (1954-56) and Al Unser, who won four consecutive from 1970-73.

Meanwhile, that same night, fifth-place finisher Chris Windom jumped into the Dennis and Dave McQuinn No. 14, providing the Canton, Illinois native an opportunity to gain valuable driver points, which would prove critical as the season came down the stretch.  Windom’s regular seat in the RPM/Fred Gormly No. 98 would earn the minimum 10 points after being sidelined that night after suffering mechanical problems in hot laps, giving the DePalmas a substantial edge in the owner championship race.

The run of podium finishes for Kody and the DePalmas continued with a second-place finish one night later on the pavement at Brownsburg, Indiana’s Lucas Oil Raceway and a third on the dirt at Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway.

But, the team’s good fortune would hit a serious road block with a frightening incident at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park just outside of St. Louis.  The team’s pavement car was totaled after a head-on hit with the turn one concrete, resulting in their only finish outside the top-five all season.  The team found themselves out of the points lead and without a pavement car heading into the series’ next two events – both on the blacktop.

When the DePalmas rolled the 63 off the trailer in the ensuing round at Lucas Oil Raceway in July, it was a welcome, yet unfamiliar sight for long-time series followers.  The Beast chassis that was recently acquired from long-time Silver Crown competitor A.J. Fike was all black – a stark contrast to the pearly white paint scheme that’s become synonymous with the series over the years.

It didn’t matter if the car was black, white or sky blue pink, the team found new life on the pavement by winning the pole and dominating all 100 laps to end his brother Tanner’s stranglehold on the .686-mile oval.

Just a couple weeks later, Swanson and the DePalmas hit the high banks of southern Indiana’s Salem Speedway where Swanson proceeded to eclipse Rich Vogler’s long-standing USAC Silver Crown one-lap track record on his way to winning the 75-lap affair to close out the pavement portion of the schedule two-for-two in the new car.

The team took a 13-point lead over nearest challenger Chris Windom into the final two dirt races of the season at the Du Quoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds and Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.

At Du Quoin, Swanson managed a solid third-place finish behind race winner Windom and Jeff Swindell, giving him a 10-point edge into the finale at Eldora’s “4-Crown Nationals.”

Coming into the night, a third-place finish would seal the deal for Swanson to win the driver’s title.  But, on lap 15 of the 50-lap event, as Swanson ducked low into turn one, he came upon the lapped car of Dakota Jackson.  The two made contact, causing both Swanson and Jackson to spin to a stop.

Swanson returned to the work area in the pits where the DePalma Motorsports crew assessed the extent of the damage.  The front bumper was broken off and the steering was seriously hindered with the front wheels not angled in their intended direction.

Yet, Swanson and his crew refused to throw in the towel and sent him back onto the racetrack where he would restart eighth.  But, as soon he entered turn one, Swanson promptly looped it to bring out another yellow.  But, by the end, extensive damage and all, Swanson had worked his way to a fifth-place finish. 

However, with Windom’s dominating victory that night, Swanson wound up just five points shy of an unprecedented third consecutive Silver Crown driver’s title.  Nonetheless, the performance was more than enough to earn the series’ owner championship as the DePalmas became just the fifth team in the 46-year history of the series to win a team title, but not claim the driver championship during a single season.

The DePalma family’s run since the beginning of the 2014 season has not only been a rousing success; it’s been downright historic.  With Kody as the pilot, the team has embarked on the most successful three-year stretch of any team in the history of the Silver Crown series.  Twelve wins have been captured by Kody and the crew, breaking the record of 10 wins in a three-year period previously held by Jack Hewitt and the white No. 63 wrenched by Hampshire from 1986-88.

Furthermore, this latest bout of success in Silver Crown isn’t new to the DePalma family.  In fact, team owner Tony DePalma’s father, Jim as well as his uncle Ralph owned the car of 1984 series champion Dave Blaney – a car adorned with the family’s business Radio Hospital on the side.  Jim and Tony DePalma are the only father-son duo to become USAC Silver Crown owner champions.

One of the greatest three-year runs in the history of the United States Auto Club by the DePalma family wouldn’t be possible without Tony and Patti as well as their children Brian, Matt, Nick, Michael and Elizabeth as well as legendary crew chief/engine builder Bob Hampshire, car chief Clark Lamme, crewmen Jon Dishong and Ryan Roberts, Kody’s wife and spotter Jordan Swanson and Kody’s father Mike Swanson who was the pavement crew chief throughout the 2014-15 championship seasons and was a consultant to Kody on set-ups in 2016.

"Over the past three years, it has been an incredible honor for my family and I to work alongside such a fantastic group of people who have been the true definition of a team,” Swanson said.  “Everyone involved works hard, works together well, and no one ever gives up.  It really has been something special to witness and I'm grateful that I've been able to be a small part of three straight championships for this race team."