CONCORD, N.C. — The large crowd assembled behind the main grandstand at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway wanted it, and legendary sprint car drivers and longtime rivals Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell gave it to them.
Race fans attended the “Ralph Sheheen Show” on the afternoon of the 59th NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals finale simply to see these two on stage together, hear their stories and, hopefully, experience a moment they would remember forever much like the often ferocious battles the two waged on the race track.
That moment would come, but first the pair who will always be linked in the annals of motorsports history, entertained their loyal fans with memories, jokes, jabs and something that was rarely seen during the days they were dominating the sport — smiles.
For decades, Kinser, the 20-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion, and Swindell, one of sprint car racing’s most successful competitors, were rarely seen together. We at SPEED SPORT were certainly surprised when each accepted the invitation to appear together.
They were fierce rivals on the track and off of it, and neither man disputes that.
“In racing, it is great to have rivalries and Sammy made that pretty easy,” Kinser laughed.
Neither Kinser nor Swindell wanted to get too deep into their battles on the track or their disagreements off of it, but both acknowledged they tangled many times through the years. Kinser said: “We never got to too many blows, but we wrestled around a little bit.”
While Kinser and Swindell each danced around saying anything too nice about the other, they acknowledged what those who cheered them in the past and on this warm Iowa afternoon already knew, together they put sprint car racing, the World of Outlaws and the Knoxville Nationals on the map.
They also knew without the other one that would have never happened.
“It is hard to explain but when you go up against somebody week after week, I want to win and he wants to win, you push a little harder,” the 61-year-old Swindell said. “It’s like the rabbit is out there. There he goes and I have to run this dude down. Sometimes it got you on the edge, but the biggest thing it taught you was how to get right there on the edge without going over.
“You can’t beat somebody if you don’t finish,” Swindell added. “If you can run as hard as you can and you run second, well, that’s OK. But I wanted to win, too, and sometimes that happened. Racing against him made me a lot better.”
“He was a damn good racer, but I’d like to leave it right there,” Kinser said dryly. “Me and Sammy bumped a lot of wheels over the years, but we probably leaned on each other more than we did anybody else, but a lot of times we were racing through a lot of traffic. It’s what built the sport.”
Kinser, who turned 65 earlier this year, ran his last race in 2016 at New York’s Lebanon Valley Speedway. Swindell was quick to remind folks who won that All Star sprint car feature.
“His last race was Lebanon Valley and it’s ironic but I won the last race he ran and I didn’t know it until after the fact,” Swindell grinned. “I would have given him a pat on the back if I had known.”
Swindell, who competed in the Nationals driving his son Kevin’s car, said he’ll race “until I’m not having fun driving.
“Last night, I thought we were going to get in until we had a little issue,” he added. “I was running around the top and I had the groove, and I thought, ‘Man, this is cool.’
And whether you call them Steve and Sammy or “The King” and “Slammin’ Sammy,” it was damn cool to see them together.
But the interview ended and the two stepped forward on the stage. Then, as host Sheheen smoothly stepped back, these two legendary Outlaws joined hands and lifted one another’s arm triumphantly into the air.
They smiled. The crowd smiled. It was the moment everyone wanted, possibly even Kinser and Swindell.
Editor’s Note: To watch the “Ralph Sheheen Show” with Sammy Swindell and Steve Kinser, log on to SPEED SPORT.com or look for it on SoundCloud, Stitcher, iTunes, iHeartRadio and Spotify.