Westporter Sweedler living dream on race track
Updated 11:41 am, Wednesday, July 29, 2015
From the time he was a young child, racing has been a passion for Westporter Bill Sweedler. He would read magazines, ride dirt bikes and watch the most famous sports car races on the television hoping someday he would be able to compete with the world’s best on the biggest stage.
Not only is Sweedler living his dream, but he’s done so in the most extraordinary way. Making a transition from the business world, Sweedler started at the bottom of the racing ladder more than a decade ago. Now 48-years-old, Sweedler races around the country — and occasionally the world — in the International Motor Sports Association’s TUDOR United Sportscar Championship series.
The series is made up of several driving classes; Sweedler competes in the GT Daytona. In 2015, Sweedler and co-driver Townsend Bell sit fourth in the standings with four events to go. Last year, Bell and Sweedler were leading before several slipups in the last few races denied them a championship.
Sweedler, a Staples High graduate, began a career in business soon after graduating from Babson College. With a young family to support, he dedicated his life to his career and placed racing on the back burner.
He now owns Tengram Capital Partners, an investment firm based in Westport. He co-founded the company in 2011 and now balances a unique schedule, though he would say the two are more similar than it first appears.
“Running a great business and doing it efficiently requires the same kind of DNA as a top level performing race car driver,” Sweedler said. “In (racing) you are physically and mentally attuned, while in business it also requires being mentally attuned.”
Once in a position to pursue racing as more than a hobby, Sweedler — who even raced offshore powerboats at one time — enrolled in the Skip Barber Racing School. Success slowly led to more opportunities, and, in 2009 he made his professional debut in the American Le Mans series.
The TUDOR series made a stop at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville — a place Sweedler began going to in the 1980s as a fan and met former Westporter Paul Newman — last weekend, though the homecoming wasn’t kind to Sweedler and his team. Midway through the race, their Ferrari 458 Italia G3 collided with another vehicle, resulting in severe suspension damage. Extensive repairs put the duo laps behind.
“Not only was it a bummer (in the standings), but every time I’m here we want to do well,” Sweedler said.
Sweedler had close to 40 family members and friends in attendance and appreciates being able to drive to a racetrack on the weekend.
“I love Lime Rock,” Sweedler said. “It’s my home track; being able to have family and friends there puts a smile on my face.”
Sweedler shares time in the car with Townsend Bell, a 40-year-old former IndyCar driver from California who has raced in the Indianapolis 500. In a traditional two hour, 40 minute race, Sweedler will drive the first 40 to 50 percent of the distance depending on race strategy before handing the wheel over to Bell.
“Having a co-driver is kind of like a partner in business; you get to know all the quirks and the chemistry works or it doesn’t,” Sweedler said. “I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years; Townsend has been a great teammate and a friend of mine.”
In 2013, Sweedler competed in the famous Rolex 24 at Daytona, a 24 hour race that is one of the most prestigious in motorsports. He’s also been on the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the premier sporting events in the world that drew more than 250,000 fans in 2015.
“The closest way to describe (driving) is: imagine being in a treadmill in a sauna, at a rock concert, on a roller coaster, trying to play chess,” Sweedler said. “There is mental processing every split second in tough conditions.”
Sweedler has several wins to his name: In 2012 he and Bell won the 12 Hours of Sebring, an annual race in Florida that has been run since 1950. In 2014, the duo won the North American Endurance Cup. He also was part of a quintet that captured first in their class in the 2014 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The ride has been a complete dream come true for Sweedler.
“I feel like you when you set yourself out for goals; when you’re passionate and shoot for the stars you get to the moon,” Sweedler said. “If you asked me 5 years ago would I be in the (Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans races), I’d probably say I think I could do one of them. I pinch myself to think we’ve had that success and success at other tracks.”