ANDERSON, Ind., Aug. 28 — More than 71 years ago when the organizers of the Pay Less Super Markets Little 500 presented by UAW dreamed up the idea of a 500-lap asphalt sprint car race on Anderson Speedway’s quarter-mile, high-banked oval on the night before the Indianapolis 500, they concentrated on the similarities they could replicate with the Indianapolis 500 when designing their event. Multi-day qualifying, a field of 33 starting three abreast, pit stops, a festival, and the many pre-race festivities preceding both races are a few of them. Both winners even drink milk in victory lane.
Something happened at this May’s Little 500, however, that never happened before at that event, hasn’t happened in the 103 runnings of the Indianapolis 500 to date, and very well may never happen again.
It’s so unusual, it even took a while for it to sink in to many of the people involved.
What was it?
One team, Nolen Racing, led 499 laps of the 500-lap race. The only lap the Whiteland, Ind.-based team didn’t lead on May 25 was lap 354, when both of its cars were in the pits simultaneously.
Even team owner Gene Nolen didn’t realize it at first. He’d gotten close to winning the Little 500 many times without achieving that goal until Kody Swanson gave him his first Little 500 victory in 2018. But this May 25 Swanson repeated as the winner in a Nolen Racing car; teammate Shane Hollingsworth finished fourth in another Nolen car, and together they led all but one lap.
Swanson led 344 laps in the Nolen Racing No. 4 and Hollingsworth led 155 laps in the Nolen Racing No. 14. DJ Racing’s Bobby Santos III was the only other leader, heading the field for one lap while the Nolen cars made pit stops.
The lap chart shows Swanson led laps 1-186; Hollingsworth led laps 187-325; Swanson led laps 326-353; Santos led lap 354; Hollingsworth was in front again from laps 355-370, and Swanson led again from laps 371-500.
It was Swanson’s third victory in the most prestigious asphalt sprint car race in the world in only five attempts.
Swanson, a native of Kingsburg, Calif. who now lives in Zionsville, Ind., beat runner-up Santos of Franklin, Mass. by an entire lap. Jacob Wilson of Crawfordsville, Ind., finished third, two laps down. Hollingsworth, of Lafayette, Ind., finished fourth, three laps down. Chris Windom of St. Louis rounded out the top five, four laps down.
The two Nolen Racing cars didn’t have the biggest engines. They are
powered by Tranter-prepared Chevrolet V6s. The team is sponsored in part by KECO Coatings, K&N Filters, Wilwood Brakes and Goodridge.
“I dearly love V6s, and it’s always our goal to field cars capable of winning,” said team owner Gene Nolen. “The Little 500 is a very hard race to win; we tried to do it for many years and got close, but never did it until last year. Shane’s lap times were comparable with Kody’s this year. Kody looked like the sure winner all night, but something can always happen. Luckily he was able to win again, but I didn’t realize we led that many laps until a reporter told me after the race.”
“The dominance shown by Gene Nolen Racing in the 71st Pay Less Little 500 presented by UAW is something that might not ever be duplicated,” said Jared Owen, vice president of operations for Anderson Speedway. “We have had multiple one-two finishes with one team in the 71-year history of the event, but no team dominated the laps led like Nolen Racing. The accomplishment is a testament to the team’s preparation and race strategy.”
At least two multi-car team owners in the NTT IndyCar Series appreciate the accomplishment.
“It is amazing to see Nolen Racing still competing at such a high level and dominating the Little 500,” said Ed Carpenter of Ed Carpenter Racing. “Although that is a race I never competed in, I understand how difficult it would be to lead that many laps in a sprint car at Anderson Speedway. I remember watching Tony Stewart win a lot of races in the Nolen Racing No. 20!”
“The Little 500 is almost as epic and storied as the Indy 500,” said Sam Schmidt of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “In fact, many successful Little 500 drivers and car owners have gone on to compete at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The domination this year by Gene Nolen’s team is simply unheard of in the world of open-wheel racing. Kudos to him and both of his drivers who combined to lead 499 out of 500 laps. I think he is ready for the IndyCar sandbox!”
According to Donald Davidson, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian, Penske Racing holds the record for the team that has led the most laps of any Indy 500 to date. This occurred in 1994 when winner Al Unser Jr. led 48 laps and Emerson Fittipaldi led 145 for a total of 193 of the 200 laps in a three-car effort that also included Paul Tracy.
Davidson added Penske Racing also holds the record as the team that has led the most laps in total in the history of the Indy 500 with 2,376.
Swanson is also the winningest driver in USAC Silver Crown history, and is leading the current USAC Silver Crown point standings for Nolen Racing as he goes for his fifth championship in USAC’s top series.
He has a happy home at Nolen Racing, but if ever there was a grass-roots driver who has earned his way to the big leagues by talent and hard work, it is Swanson. With his help, Nolen Racing has also set an unprecedented mark at the Little 500 that will be extremely hard to beat.
For more information see the team’s website at NolenRacing.com and follow @NolenRacing on Facebook and @NolenRacing20 on Twitter.