Story By: PAUL LAMBERT / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – After a red-hot finish to the 2019 Whelen Modified Tour season, Matt Swanson was pumped up.
The season had started slow for Swanson and the BRE Racing No. 3 team, with just one top-10 in the first five races. Then, Swanson and the No. 3 team returned to form, finishing outside the top-10 just three times the rest of the season. During the run, Swanson vaulted himself from 12th to 5th in the standings by season’s end.
“That was the first time I went a whole offseason and I never stopped thinking about ,” Swanson says. “From the second the checkered flag flew at Thompson, I was already thinking about the first race of 2020. And that was kind of the first time that I’ve ever had that fire under my ass, to just get going.”
But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and the season-opener was both moved and rescheduled. It threw things for a massive loop.
“I was honestly a little bit worried going to Jennerstown for that first race because I had been out of a car for so long,” Swanson says. “Everyone can say that an offseason doesn’t really affect them, but when you get back into a racecar after a hiatus of that long… It takes some time to get back used to it.”
The extended offseason didn’t slow Swanson down, however. Driving iconic “Ole Blue”, Swanson racked up three top-10 finishes in the first four races, and a total of six for the season.
As the team enters 2021, they are arguably readier than ever to return to Victory Lane on the Tour for the first time since the 2017 Icebreaker 150, when Rowan Pennink was behind the wheel.
“It’s gonna be one big celebration when we finally get this [number] 3 car in Victory Lane,” Swanson says. “It would mean the world to me, but it would mean more to my guys. I can’t say it enough, how hard those guys work. Those guys work their butts off to make sure those cars go as good as they do.”
2017 was also a year in which the team returned to vintage form as true championship contenders, eventually finishing fourth in the final standings.
The Swanson-BRE Racing partnership wasn’t exactly planned from the outset.
The team had Pennink tabbed as the driver of the car until August of the 2018 season, when he shocked the Modified community by announcing his retirement due to concerns with back injuries. Swanson, who had filled in for Pennink earlier in the season at Thompson, was tabbed for the job.
While the team failed to finish three of the final five races that season, the two races they did finish resulted in top-10s. Swanson was back for 2019, impressed the team with a fifth-place points finish, and continued the partnership.
Swanson is adamant about it: BRE Racing simply does not possess the resources that bigger teams do. What they lack in money, however, is made up for by the brainpower of its crew members. It’s a big motivational chip for the team.
“[Other teams] have different crew chiefs, but they all have the same chassis, so they can all bounce ideas off each other,” Swanson says. “Us out there being the oddball, so to say, it adds fuel to the fire to make us want to be better… I have the best crew, in my opinion, in the whole garage, just based on how hard they work.”
Despite having Modified greats like Ted Christopher and Ryan Preece driving, BRE Racing hasn’t won a Tour championship since Tony Hirschman went back-to-back in 1995 and 1996. 2021 may very well be the year Ole Blue returns to the promised land.