Column By: KYLE SOUZA / NASCAR – THOMPSON, CT – One year ago, Matt Swanson spent the night before the Bud ‘King of Beers’ 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park readying his family-owned car for competition on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
In the blink of an eye, his preparation turned to something completely different. And one year later, on the same day, he’s going to spend his time preparing the famed No. 3 ‘Ole Blue’ Chevrolet for Boehler Racing — ahead of competition in the same Bud 150 this Wednesday night.
Swanson got the call last year to drive for Rowan Pennink in the car for the night, after Pennink celebrated the birth of his first child. A few weeks later, when Pennink announced his retirement from racing effective immediately, Swanson was given the seat. He’s still in it.
“I actually got the phone call from my dad, I was at SPAFCO Chassis setting up the family car and my dad called me to let me know,” Swanson said. “It all started there for us. We actually brought the family car to the track just in case I didn’t fit in the seat or something, but everything worked out. We got me fitted in the car and got all of the scales numbers squared away before we went to the race track.”
That night, Swanson celebrated a second-place finish in his first start behind the wheel of one of the most historic rides in NASCAR Modified history. Fast-forward a year, he’s competed in 15 races for the team, including the first 10 of this Whelen Modified Tour season. That second-place effort is his best finish in his career, but, he’s also earned two more top-fives driving the car. Those just happened to have come in the last two races of the season, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Stafford Motor Speedway, meaning he has plenty of momentum heading for Wednesday night.
“I didn’t really know what to think going into it. It was one of those deals where I sat back and realized I was actually driving the famous No. 3 car, and I thought that no matter where we finished, it was an amazing opportunity to drive that car,” he said of last year. “We ran up front the whole race, having never worked with the brains behind their operation. We’ve started off this year with some bad luck, but we are finally turning it around, with two top-fives in a row, I really think we are going to start doing some good things.”
Not only does Swanson drive the car, but as a rising star who likes to get dirty in the shop, wrenching on his own equipment, he’s been working on the cars during the week.
“It’s really just a learning experience every day that I go to the shop. I’m down there a lot, and working with Greg (Fournier, crew chief), watching what he does and what he builds, I’m able to just watch what goes into that No. 3 car. With a lot of the components built in-house, I’m able to learn every single day that I go there,” Swanson said. “When you really get to see what goes into that car, it’s really cool. To drive for a team that puts so much time and effort into making the car goes fast, it makes it that much more special.”
Last time on the track, a late caution in the Stafford 150 gave Swanson the opportunity he was looking for. A pit strategy call put him on the front row for a green-white-checkered finish in overtime, and even though he finished fourth, he is still pleased with the effort.
“When the caution came out, I figured we would take two tires and get some fuel to get that squared away so we didn’t run out, but when Greg made the call to take only one tire and fuel to keep track position, we are going for our first win, we are going to do whatever it takes to get it,” Swanson said. “We were all on-board with the call. We know we’re so close to getting our first win.”
With the momentum on his side, he’s hoping Wednesday’s 30th annual Bud 150 brings everything full circle. If he plays the same role he did one year ago, he should have a chance at winning the 11th race of the season. Justin Bonsignore has six straight Whelen Modified Tour victories at Thompson, and Swanson is hoping he is the one to break that historic streak.
“It starts with the preparation going to the race track, the guys have been working their tail off getting the car ready to go. We’ll have the same car that we ran at Loudon and Stafford, because we’ve felt like we’ve shown plenty of speed every time we’ve run it. We just have to put a whole day together. In the Icebreaker (at Thompson), we just ran out of laps at the end, and in the Thompson 125, we had a pit gun break. We have to be good in practice, make some changes, and hopefully be up on the top of the speed charts.”
“We’re not really in the championship fight right now, so we are going to do what it takes to get the first win. Thompson has always been a strong track for me, and a strong track for the No. 3 guys. They’ve raced there so many times. we are just going to the track with the mindset that we will do whatever it takes to win. if we end up breaking his streak, that would be pretty cool.”
NASCAR WHELEN MODIFIED TOUR NEWS & NOTES:
Ron Silk is rolling smooth into Thompson. The Norwalk, Connecticut, driver, and former Whelen Modified tour champion, is coming off two straight victories in competition driving for Kevin Stuart Motorsports. In his first full-time season with the team, Silk has top 10 finishes in all but one race, and three victories, which is tied for the most in the series. In two starts at Thompson this season, he’s earned top five finishes in both — but hasn’t been to Victory Lane at the Connecticut oval since 2012.
Woody Pitkat will look to transfer some NASCAR Whelen All-American Series success over to the Whelen Modified Tour. Pitkat has three victories and a second-place finish in his last four local races at Thompson — including two straight wins in their Late Model division and a victory in the premier Sunoco Modifieds. In two starts in Whelen Modified Tour action, Pitkat has two top-10 efforts. He’s never won in 43 previous tour starts there.
With just six races remaining, Sam Rameau is in a strong position to chase the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. Rameau leads Timmy Catalano by 49 points and J.B. Fortin by 69. Rameau has three top 10 finishes in his rookie campaign, including his eighth-place finish in the Thompson 125 in June.