MOORESVILLE, N.C. — When Kevin Swindell suffered injuries that left him paralyzed from the waist down in a sprint car crash at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway in 2015, he didn’t know if he’d ever have another chance to experience the thrill of victory as a driver.
Over the last month, however, Swindell has gotten that opportunity once again thanks to the iRacing simulation service and a host of World of Outlaws iRacing Invitationals at the virtual iterations of several historic dirt tracks.
Utilizing a specially-designed sim rig with hand controls, Swindell has picked off a pair of $1,000 scores during the month of April, carrying his familiar No. 39 and repping his company — Swindell SpeedLab — along the way.
While it doesn’t quite carry the same thrill as when he was in his real-life race car several years ago, Swindell noted it’s as close as he can get in the present day and he’s enjoyed being able to kindle his competitive fire again.
“It’s been really good to get back to mixing it up with a lot of these guys; I’ve really enjoyed it,” Swindell told Sprint Car & Midget. “I’ve honestly been pretty comfortable throughout this whole process. I think there’s a lot to be said for what being competitive does for a driver, and a lot of the guys I’m familiar with and have sim-raced against. I ran a lot with Logan (Seavey) 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 broke through for his first iRacing Invitational victory on April 8 at the simulated version of the very same track that changed his life five years earlier.
It was a fact that wasn’t lost on the second-generation driver, even if he didn’t think about it too much at the time.
“I’ll be honest with you; I didn’t really think about it much,” Swindell admitted. “I was just basically worried about taking down a win at all. Really, I knew that I kind of gave away or didn’t quite do enough at Charlotte (during a prior iRacingInvitational) and probably wasn’t as good there as I should have been. Just to get rid of all those mistakes and finally put one away was a good feeling.
“That’s really what I was thinking about more than, ‘Hey, I won at Knoxville,’ but winning at Knoxville in anything is always special, even if it is on iRacing,” he added. “We all know the history the track has and how important it is to sprint car racing. It’s just a neat place and it was good to get the job done.”
As far as that race went, Swindell chased down the top spot and eventually seized it after a wheel-to-wheel battle with fellow Chili Bowl champion and longtime rival Kyle Larson.
“You build more confidence chasing a guy and knowing that, or at least feeling like, you’re better than they are,” Swindell explained. “I never was too concerned in that one until I got the lead. And then, it was just about making sure I didn’t really make a mistake and let anybody get back to me. I played the wrong lane there the first time I got by Kyle (Larson), and let him sneak back by me, but there were never really any major nerves or anything until it got to crunch time at the very end.
“That was the point that I knew it was my race to screw up, and I didn’t want to screw it up.”
Swindell added his second win on April 14 at the virtual Lernerville Speedway, leading 32 of 35 laps in a dominant performance that brought back memories of the days before the injuries he suffered at Knoxville cut his career short.
But now, through sim-racing and the present-day technology available to him, Swindell has been able to duke it out with the Christopher Bells, Brad Sweets and Logan Schucharts of the world and offer a glimpse into where he might be had life not dealt him the hand that it did.
“It’s been awhile, obviously, since I’ve been able to have moments like this and race against a lot of these guys,” admitted Swindell, a four-time Chili Bowl winner. “But I think it goes back to the days of the Chili Bowl … and really, (Christopher) Bell and Larson, there are some of those guys that I think weren’t truly in their prime, 100 percent, when I was still around. So now I’m trying to get back on somewhat of equal footing with them.
“To be able to beat those guys is definitely a good feeling,” he added. “I want to remind them of maybe how good I actually was, and that they’re lucky that I’m not still around to take some of their trophies away.”