CONCORD, N.C. – Kevin Swindell hasn’t been in a sprint car for almost five years.
However, when the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series makes its debut on FOX Sports 1 Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET, he’ll be one of the top competitors — in a virtual sense.
Swindell will be one of 20 elite racers competing in the $1,000-to-win World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car iRacing Invitational at the virtual Dirt Track at Charlotte.
In reality, Swindell earned his sole World of Outlaws win at the four-tenths-mile track in 2006 — at the time becoming the youngest World of Outlaws winner in series history at 17 years old.
Nine years later, a spine injury from a crash at the 2015 Knoxville Nationals ended his racing career. However, through iRacing and a custom hand control setup, his racing days are far from over.
In the past week, Swindell competed in three World of Outlaws iRacing Invitational events — two sprint car races and one late model event — going wheel to wheel with drivers like Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Logan Schuchart and Scott Bloomquist.
“It’s been fun,” Swindell said. “Especially to be competitive. I ran a lot with Logan and those guys in the rFactor (simulation) days. A lot of us haven’t run together very much in the last couple of years. It’s been fun to hang out and use TeamSpeak during heat races to laugh about certain stuff. It’s been a good time.”
Swindell uses a device developed by SimAbility, which makes sim racing adaptive controls, to run the simulated races. Behind the steering wheel are two large “shifter paddles” that he uses for the accelerator and brakes and under them are two smaller actual shifter paddles he can hit with his pinkies to shift the car.
He engineered his own addition to the device by attaching a sprint car throttle spring to the accelerator paddle to stiffen it up.
“It’s a pretty nice system,” Swindell said. “It’s built from a wood CNC. It’s a whole piece of aluminum that’s all jigged out. It’s pretty neat to actually look at and hear how little technology [SimAbility] has to make them.”
However, he admitted it’s not the best setup for dirt racing.
The accelerator paddle sticks out and is pulled in to accelerate, which is sometimes an awkward pull while trying to maintain the throttle control and constant movement of the wheel needed to be successful on dirt, Swindell said.
“It’ll get a little crooked and it doesn’t pull wide open or it won’t close all the way, so I have to be careful and conscious of that little (throttle) indicator on the screen, making sure everything is right.
“Actually, I think I struggled in the sprint car the other night because I calibrated the throttle to where three-quarters throttle was actually full throttle. So, it made it kind of weird to know where I was pedaling, but I wanted to make sure I was always wide open for at least the early part of the night.”
While there may be a few hindrances with his current wheel, it’s a big upgrade from what Swindell first started using.
“Probably right after I got hurt, we took just your basic kind of wheel and took bicycle brakes, like the levers, and basically hose clamped those to the wheel and ran cables to the actual pedal set and let the cables pull the (accelerator and brake) pedals,” he said.
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