Just as he was beginning to realize his dreams of becoming a
professional racing driver, B.J. Swanson crashed badly at the start of
Mid Ohio’s August (1975)Formula 5000 race. Three days later, as a
result of severe head injuries he receive when a guardrail pulled out of
the ground and struck his helmet, Swanson died.
The death of any racing driver always leaves a gnawing hole inside but
when it happens to a young driver with everything ahead of him the
feeling is even worse. It was that way with B.J. Swanson. A 26-year-
old from Indiana, he had appeared out of nowhere at the beginning of
this year’s F5000 season. Immediately he showed talent and spirit and
soon he became a front runner. At Watkins Glen he raced to an
outstanding third place and at Elkhart Lake he came through from the
middle of the field to fourth place.
By then B.J. was quite obviously the coming man of F5000. In a time
when few new drivers have been able to establish themselves in this
country’s major racing series, B.J. Swanson plainly had arrived and
people began to talk of him as the man to follow in the footsteps of
Gruney and Donohue and Revson and Andretti. Those early months
of the summer must have been a euphoric time for him but B.J.
remained, at least outwardly, cool and detached about his success.
He threw himself into racing so that he was spending all his time at it,
driving Bob Bay’s F5000 Lola or his own County Line Cheese Formula
It had taken five long years for all this to happen to B.J. Swanson.
During that time he had raced production cars and Formula Fords,
always on the cheap, always going through the same frustrating and
often futile pursuit of recognition and support that so many young
racing drivers struggle with. All of it had left him soured and cynical
about the business.
Even when Bob Bay approached him last year with an offer to drive his
old Lola T190(192) in Nationals, Swanson continued to hold little faith
in the future. “I’d been through too many deals when someone
promised everything and nothing happed.” explained B.J. But then
Bay began to talk about doing the F5000 series and soon the talk
became reality as one of the Hass/Hall Lola T332s was purchased.
B.J. spent most of his winter in California organizing both his team and
himself. “I was real nervous about things over the winter because we’d
been so much slower than the F5000 lap records with the T190(192)
that I could’t believe it was all in that car. But when we finally went down
to Texas to test the car(LolaT332) I was almost as fast as the best
times that Hall’s guys had done.”
Feeling much more confident, Swanson and Bay Racing started their
season with an aim at getting among the first ten sometime during the
year. But things went better than any one on the team had hoped for.
After qualifying eleventh at the season opener, B. J. Worked his way
up to a good seventh place finish. A few weeks later at Mosport he
was running sixth ahead of a pressing David Hobbs until a drive shaft
snapped. Then came his third at the Glen and a fourth at Elkhart
Lake. Everything had suddenly come right in a way which B.J. could
not have imagined.
All this early success crystallized Bay Racing into one of the most
optimistic, straightforward teams in Formula F5000. The team’s chief
mechanic Jerry Eisert enthused over B. J.’s capabilities and time after
time he had said, “You know, were gonna win one of these before the
year’s over.” That way the team became the most excited, most hard
trying group of all.
B. J. himself, tall and powerful and always with a wide, ready smile,
explained that his cynicism had been turned full circle by all that had
happened. . Talking of this and all he felt he had learned in his short
time in F5000, B. J. said on the day before his accident “You know I’ m
really glad I’ve got the chance to find out how good I am. I would have
hated to be 35 and married and telling myself all the time, ‘I could have
done that, I could have been a racing driver’.”
B. J. Swanson was a racing driver and a very alive young man. He will
be missed by all.
Formula Magazine November 1975
|Bernard James (B.J.) Swanson
Residents, Bristol, IN
Born November 21, 1948