Speed Zone Blog: Looking At A Legend — The Career of Sammy Swindell

Jacob Seelman Dirt Track Racing, Featured, Jacob Seelman Blog, MidSouth, Other Midgets, Other Sprint Cars, Southeast, Sprints & Midgets, Staff Columns, World of Outlaws Sprint Cars 0 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — Blog by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — World of Outlaws photo — It’s been two weeks since the announcement, but someone made a comment to me over the weekend that stuck in my head so strongly that I was inspired to sit down and write.

“You can’t measure a legend by the statistics until the statistics are actually finished.”

Oh, how true it is. The numbers and statistics are only a measure of his legend, but Sammy Swindell will be remembered as one of the greatest drivers in World of Outlaws history.

Swindell, who two weeks ago today announced his retirement from full-time racing effective immediately, will go down in the history books as a three-time World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series champion who achieved a stunning 294 victories. The Bartlett, Tennessee native was one of the original Outlaws who helped grow the series from its roots back in 1978 at Devil’s Bowl Speedway into the premier sprint car sanctioning body it is today.

In addition to his World of Outlaws titles and wins, Swindell was also a four-time runner up on the Outlaws championship trail, as well as the 1983 Knoxville Nationals champion, a three-time Kings Royal champion, the 2009 USCS 360 Sprint Car Series Flip Flop 50 champion and the only five-time champion of the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, showcasing his racing skills in open-wheel competition outside of sprint cars.

Swindell also competed in the CART championship in 1985 and ’86 and attempted to qualify for the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’, the Indianapolis 500, in 1987.

Besides being a calculating driver with myriad success, Swindell has also been highly respected for his skills in building and setting up his cars, dedicating his life to perfecting the science of racing.

“Sammy’s talent is more than a driver, he is an innovator,” World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series Director Carlton Reimers said. “He was one of the ‘Big 3′ along with Steve Kinser and Doug Wolfgang in the early days, and he persevered through the years. He was a threat to win every night. I hope he and Kevin find all the success they want.”

Now 58 years of age, Swindell has been racing since he was 15 years old. Along with his wife Amy, he plans to move from focusing on his own racing career to helping and supporting his son Kevin, who is achieving success in the NASCAR ranks.

Those NASCAR ranks that Kevin is aspiring towards also played host to “Slammin’ Sammy”, though many people don’t realize it because of his overwhelming success in the sprint car discipline. Swindell debuted in what was then the NASCAR Winston Cup Series during the 1985 Atlanta Journal 500 and planned to move full-time to the Winston Cup Series in 1991, competing for Rookie of the Year for Moroso Racing.

However, the opening to the ’91 season did not go according to plan at Daytona Speedweeks and the following race at Richmond, leading Sammy and the Moroso team to part ways. Following his release, Swindell returned to sprint car racing before making two additional stints at the NASCAR national level, running a partial NASCAR Busch Series schedule in 1993 and a full NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season in 1995 before leaving NASCAR for the final time as a driver and returning to his open-wheel roots.

While Swindell may never have had the success in full-fendered NASCAR competition that he had hoped for as a driver, his willingness to race outside of his comfort zone and prove he could be the best in multiple areas will place him in the historical ranks among the best and most versatile drivers of all time, a racer who would compete any time, anywhere, and in anything.

“We have been fortunate to have one of the greatest racers of all-time compete in our series right from day one,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter. “We wish Sammy and Amy the best as they move on to support Kevin’s racing aspirations.”

Many people have asked, “Why now? How can a legend just step away from the sport he loves, a sport that he has been an integral part of for portions of five decades?”

The answer is simple.

Sammy Swindell is a racer’s racer. He doesn’t go out to play, he goes out to win and compete every time he sets a wheel to the race track. Yes, he had one win this season, but when he took a pair of weekends off of the Outlaws tour to try and focus his efforts on winning the Knoxville Nationals, a race he hadn’t won in 31 years, the sense was that this might be it. Sammy was gearing up his final assault.

Yes, he wants to support his son Kevin’s racing career; that is a huge part of why Sammy has hung up the helmet now. But on a deeper level than that, Sammy has said for many years that when he went out of the sport, it was going to be on his terms and no one else’s. Swindell was insistent on being remembered as one of the greatest ever and remembered a competitor and a winner even after he was done competing.

Retiring at this time, on his terms, while he still has shown those flashes of winning drive allows the three-time champion to do just that.

“I always knew when the time came to retire it would be clear,” Swindell said following his retirement announcement. “I’ve had a long and very successful career. Part of the reason for the timing now is I’ve spent the last two weekends with … Kevin, racing. I haven’t had any time to spend with his racing the last four years. … I want to be there to support him.”

Of course, Swindell has already said he’s still going to compete at the Chili Bowl on a yearly basis — and why shouldn’t he? He’s the event’s winningest driver ever and between he and son Kevin, the Swindell family has won five of the last six Chili Bowls, with only this year’s Golden Driller missing (it went to first-time winner Bryan Clauson as Kevin Swindell finished second). He has nothing to prove in Tulsa and everything to gain if he were to win it for a record-extending sixth time.

With all this being said, there’s not much else left to ponder except for the fact that from now on, the sprint car landscape will be forever different from what it has been for the last four decades. It will take some getting used to, but new faces will emerge and legends will be cemented into their historical shrines.

Sammy Swindell will be remembered as one of those legends. He has left a shining legacy — now it’s time to see what will follow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.