Checkered Past: Seven Seasons of Sam

Photo Credit: 8.5.78 Rossburg, OH (Eldora) Tony Martin photo

Sammy Swindell is an international treasure that rivals have buried both figuratively and professionally. Public relations were always an Achilles Heel and why his Simpson Safety shoes never took root at the Indianapolis 500 or Daytona 500. No one ever questioned his talent or acumen. Sammy would have modified and mastered those machines just as he had with sprints and midgets. His career is without peer yet has recently halted and resumed at the whim of its 64-year old author, who has been a winner for 49 seasons. Here are summaries of seven.

Gene Marderness photo

2.10.79 Tampa, FL (East Bay) Fortune 500’s first sprint car belonged to A.J and C.J Jeffreys of Federal Express in Memphis, TN. The twins hired the pride of Riverside Speedway and ordered Gary Stanton frames and local Racing Head Service (RHS) engines. They were fastest on 14 occasions with new track records at Skagit (13.97) and Hartford, SD. Sammy added 14 wins in 93 features. He won twice at West Memphis and twice more at Jackson, TN. He won at Winnipeg and New Bremen. His biggest checks were with the World of Outlaws at Devil’s Bowl (4k) and $4800 from the Indy Mile. FedEx delivered third at Knoxville Nationals, third at Gold Cup, and third at Eldora’s Busch Bash for quick qualifiers. Swindell’s last win of 1979 came at Manzanita in Robert Hardy’s hometown Stanton.

Gene Marderness photo

2.13.82 Tampa, FL (East Bay) Swindell’s second win of the week was worth Six Grand. He added 25 more before the snow. Sam’s second full season in Nance Speed Equipment was also his second straight World of Outlaws championship as evidenced by the crown over his name. Gaerte Engines qualified best 20 times boasting nine new standards such as Eldora’s first 14-second circuit (105 MPH), Odessa’s fastest lap (114 MPH) and World Record lap around Syracuse (129 MPH) before a victory gross of $19,950. He won at Devil’s Bowl in Greg Wooley’s 100-inch NCRA super. He raced a 96-inch USAC champ car built and owned by Laverne Nance at Eldora and Springfield mile. He was third on the Indy Mile in a USAC Sprint owned by Tim Delrose and Dale Holt. He topped 18 ovals in 16 states and Manitoba in 1982.

10.10.85 Syracuse, NY: Sammy stunned the DIRT Modified world by climbing through Cliff Barcomb’s window and circling fastest at 113 MPH. Two days later, he raised the sprint mark to 137 MPH. After winning almost 20k on Saturday, Sunday’s 125 miles were shortened when Sammy slammed into stalled Buzzie Reutimann. He raced a Grant King champ car for Ofixco at Tampa then Volusia sprint car later on the same day. He drove the 100-inch Stanton of Tony Bruce to an NCRA win at Wichita until Tony’s engine proved illegal. During his regular gig, Swindell won 23 sprint races on 18 tracks in 12 states from Ascot to Aberdeen, Lake Lanier and Indy Mile again. But it was “The Year of The Wolf” when Swindell settled for second to Doug Wolfgang at Kings Royal and Knoxville Nationals.

4.17.87 Memphis, TN (0.5d) Brad Myers and Steve “Chico” Cox were Kodiak crewmen for Swindell’s fifth and final season for Raymond Beadle. The brand new Memphis Motorsports Park produced the seventh of 17 wins in 1987. Beadle’s finest Chaparral Trailer toted Stanton-designed Challengers powered by Beadle’s Blue Max room run by Bob Westphal, who later formed Wesmar Racing Engines in Oklahoma. They went fastest ten times led by mile marks at Indianapolis (132 MPH) and Syracuse at 140. Sammy won in Charlotte (Metrolina), Omaha (Sunset) and Placerville. He was second at Baylands for Jim Klein and Sonny Kratzer. But this was “The Year of The King” when Steve Kinser crushed all. Swindell closed 1987 at Charlotte and Syracuse for The Mickow Corporation before TMC tycoon Harrold Annett became Sam’s boss by Christmas.

Steve Koletar photo

11.22.92 Phoenix, AZ (Manzanita) Swindell and California’s Kelly Pryor put the tape to a 35-win TMC campaign. Goodyear owed its dirt track existence to Sammy Swindell because it was his insightful feedback that broke a Firestone stranglehold. No season of the World of Outlaws ever began as strangely as 1992 in the Suncoast Dome (dirt over concrete) and Charlotte County asphalt. Sammy was unfazed, winning indoors at St. Pete and chasing Punta Gorda victor Dave Blaney. Swindell finished first in 34 of 89 ensuing events. Gaerte Engines was back beneath his boot for 16 quick qualifying awards dotted by track records at Eagle, Santa Maria, Cedar Lake, Indy Mile and Lakeside tar. He swept that last Outlaw asphalt adventure at Kansas City as Wolfgang struggled in a burn unit. He won on 23 tracks in 15 states. He took 50k for his first Kings Royal wreath, 25k from Lernerville’s first Silver Cup, 22k from the Indy Mile and 12k from Wayne County, Ohio. He beat winged sprint cars on Manzy’s half and wingless midgets on the Manzanita third-mile though not quite on the same Sunday evening.

Steve Koletar photo

5.19.98 Sarver, PA (Lernerville) The defending champion of the World of Outlaws sought a third victory of the year when his Channellock transporter drew closest to corporate headquarters in Meadville. Few crew chiefs were ever credited with Swindell victories because Sam has forever acted as his own mechanic. This season netted eight wins in 91 starts and banked 16k at Fargo and 12k from San Jose. He was second at Kings Royal and third at Knoxville Nationals. He qualified quickest for 12 shows highlighted by Springfield which measured slightly more than a mile (1.04) and converted Sam’s lap to 151.5 stratosphere.

7.15.00 Rossburg, OH (Eldora) Sammy was fresh from victory on the Knight Before the Royal but settled for sixth in the chase for Fifty Grand. He won 33k at Lernerville, 20k at blistering Bristol Motor Speedway, and 17k for sweeping the first two Oregon Outlaw evenings on Portland’s turf-on-tar. He won 21 of 96 starts. He qualified best for 13 programs with track records at Lebanon Valley (110 MPH), Red River Valley (120 MPH) and Bristol at 138.

Very few living legends walk among us. Sammy Swindell remains a Tennessee treasure. Just don’t bury him yet.


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