A three-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champion recently won his first feature race in more than 10 years.
Tim Swearengin, 45, of Springfield, Mo., won the 25-lap modified feature at Lebanon (Mo.) I-44 Speedway May 3. Swearengin won three consecutive late model championships at the .375-mile banked paved oval 2000-02. He stopped racing at the end of the 2003 season. The track rejoined NASCAR in 2013 after a 10-year hiatus.
Since 2003 Swearengin raced only twice. He substituted for a modified driver several years ago. For 2014, a team gave him the opportunity to get back on track full time.
With limited experience in the open-wheel cars, Swearengin learned quickly.
“You can see out of the front real good and you can see what the tires are doing,” he said. “Modifieds are slower driving but faster handling. I think drivers give each other a little more room than in late models where you can lean on each other. In modifieds you really don’t want to rub wheels. In Late Models you can race side-by-side for laps. In modifieds I want to pass someone before the next corner.”
National championships will be determined in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Divisions II through V this year for the first time. In each division, dirt and asphalt tracks are combined in point standings. The four national champions will receive a trophy and a trip to the series national awards event in December. In addition, the top-three dirt and top-three asphalt drivers will be invited to the series awards event.
Modifieds are classified as Lebanon I-44’s Division II.
The top five NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Championship Division II-V leaders this week include:
· Division II: Spencer Davis, New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway; Brad May, New Smyrna; Garrett Jones, New Smyrna; Shawn Gray, Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway; Donald Parsons III, Columbus.
· Division III: Jerod Weston, I-80 Speedway, Greenwood, Neb., Adams County Speedway, Corning, Iowa; John Ketron, Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway, Lonesome Pine Raceway, Coeburn, Va.; Josh Sink, I-80, Adams County; Aaron McMorran, The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; Donald Sargent, The Bullring.
· Division IV: Brad Derry, Adams County, I-80; Jeremy Menninger, Columbus; Jimmy McElfresh, Columbus; Dave Trudeau, Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl, Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park; Doug Curry, Waterford.
· Division V: Brian King, Anderson (S.C.) Motor Speedway, Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway; Chris Harvell, Anderson, Greenville; Donavan Beacham, Greenville, Anderson; Don Tavernia, Greenville; Michael Cross, Anderson, Greenville.
Swearengin’s most recent full season and race win came in 2003 at the defunct I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo. Because of the high speeds it generated, the big half-mile high-banked paved oval could be treacherous. He finished fifth in track points, but back injuries from several incidents had taken their toll. He faced an 11 month recovery period. He stayed on the racing sidelines until recent years when the desire to get back on track rekindled.
“I was practically sitting at the pit gate at Lebanon I-44 with a sign that said ‘Will Drive For Free,’ ” Swearengin said. “I’d pester everyone I could trying to find a ride. This year I’m thankful to Brian Lewis and his son Richard gave me the chance.”
“Brian Lewis was a car owner back in the days when I was racing Late Models,” Swearengin said. “He knew I’d been looking for a ride for several years. I was at the track every week pitting for whoever I could help.”
The Lewis team and Swearengin came up with some creative financing to buy his new race car, which is actually a late 1990s FRE chassis.
“We spent all winter harvesting about 20 acres of cedar trees on property they own,” Swearengin said. “We cut them into four-foot logs and sold them to a company about an hour south of Springfield. That’s how Brian and Richard were able to afford a third car.”
Brian and Richard Lewis own and drive their own modifieds. Richard was the track’s 2013 rookie of the year and Brian is a rookie in the modified division this year.
Engine builder Shane Fessler of Troy, Mo., is the engine sponsor and Midwest Sheet Metal sponsors the car’s body. Queen City Auto Glass also supports the effort. Gary Gregory is crew chief and Scott and Tommy Holt are crewmen.
Swearengin started racing Street Stocks at Lebanon in 1991 and moved up to Late Models in 1992.
“That was a big learning curve,” Swearengin said. “My dad Don was my car owner for 14 years. I didn’t start winning until we finally got a good Lefthander chassis in 1997. We raced it for three seasons before I won our first championship.”
Swearengin raced with 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, who won Lebanon’s late model championship in 1997. He also finished second to NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Larry Phillips in the 1998 track point race and third behind Ken Dickinson and Phillips in 1999. Then he reeled off his three late model championships.
“I followed Larry for many, many laps over the years,” Swearengin said. “I didn’t beat him often, but when I did I knew it was special. He was highly respected.”