After paralysis, Kevin Swindell fuels competitive spirit with iRacing

@SwindellSpdLab, Twitter

Winning is the foundation on which racing is built. And whenever circumstances change, there are winners and losers.

Kevin Swindell is just happy to be able to feed his competitive spirit on an equal playing field again.

Swindell was a rising star in sprint cars before an accident in Heat 2 of the 2015 Knoxville Nationals left him sidelined and partially paralyzed below the waist. He was able to stand for his December 2016 wedding, but the dexterity needed to pedal a sprint car was gone.

So was the ability to be competitive in a world where success is measured in fractions of a second.

Swindell always has raced in the virtual as well as the real world. As part of the online racing community since 2005, he had to engineer his own solution from the existing stock. He clamped bicycle brakes to his wheel with a cable running down to the accelerator and brake pedals.

Since 2015, Swindell, 31, has pivoted to the business side of the sport, running not only a race shop that has provided rides to Sammy Swindell, Christopher Bell and Logan Seavey but also leveraging his unique position in the racing community to create Swindell SpeedLab, a racing content and merchandise provider.

REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS: Dale Jr. on virtual racing implications

VIRTUAL POINTS STANDINGS: IndyCar iRacing Challenge 

One division of SpeedLab competes at the top level of eSports in their iRacing dirt track championships. Swindell’s driver, Blake Matjoulis won the late model title last year. The team won Round 2 of the 2020 sprint car championship at Lernerville Speedway with James Edens at the controls.

It’s no surprise that the young entrepreneur was ready when iRacing moved to the center of the racing world over the past month because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Compared to the rig he started with, Swindell’s current SimAbility system is light years ahead. Compared to what racing fans have seen from many of the Cup drivers in the NASCAR Pro Invitational Series, it’s simple and rudimentary.

“I’ve played with some of those before, and honestly, I don’t see a huge gain to it,” Swindell told “It’s nice to have and the quality of them and being able to be a little more comfortable can help, but overall, I’ve always just raced in a desk chair with the wheel on a desk since 2005 or so. I really don’t know any different. I wouldn’t mind having one of them for the sheer fact of being able to have the three screens and be able to see a little better.

“I think it helps prove to a lot of people that you don’t need a whole lot to get on there and keep up. I know with the Cup deal, showing what Denny (Hamlin) has, I’m sure a lot of people are under the impression that you need some type of extravagant set up to really be able to compete.”

With his steering wheel strapped to the desk, Swindell is again one of the stars of the World of Outlaws.

On March 29 in the second round of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car iRacing Invitational on DIRTVision, Swindell took the lead on Lap 3 and held it until Lap 21. Australian Jock Goodyer won while Swindell faded to 11th, but the feel of running up front had been missing for a while.

Kevin Swindell at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 21, 2013 (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images).

“I’ve been good; I race a little bit here and there on there and usually I’m stuck with guys that are next level quality,” said Swindell, who also made a go of NASCAR with 30 Xfinity Series starts from 2010-14. “They spend a lot of time on (iRacing). So to be able to be as competitive as I have been able to be the last few nights, with guys that are more on my skill level has been fun. It’s been good to get to do that again.”

The following Wednesday, in what will become a weekly feature on FS1 while the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to sideline racing, Swindell was up front again.

This time he led the first 21 laps of a race on the virtual Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway before giving way to NASCAR star Christopher Bell. Swindell held on for second-place with Outlaws regular Logan Schuchart behind him in third.

The Charlotte dirt track is the site of his only Outlaw sprint win in 2006. At the time, he was the youngest ever winner in the series.

“(Racing in the iRacing series) gave me something to do and a way to get some of that competitive out in me,” Swindell said. “At times it’s pretty frustrating that not only was I able to do it in a real car, but I used to be really good on a sim in most of these things. … That’s why it’s been good to race with these guys and not the guys that spend several hours a day on iRacing.

“It puts me on a little bit more level of a playing field where I can be really competitive and enjoy it. I’m too competitive of a person to get on there and kind of suck, it’s just not fun for me to not be able to compete to win.”

Competing in the iRacing series gives him an opportunity to show his talent behind the wheel to sprint car fans who have not seen him race in half a decade. Equally important, the prime time slot on national television is introducing the sport of dirt track racing to thousands of race-starved fans who are waiting for cars to get back on the track.

“I think as good as it is to bring in new fans, it’s a big opportunity for our sport as a whole to really prove the model,” Swindell said. “Kind of shows off that there’s a large fan base that wants to see this on national television on a regular basis when it goes back to being the real thing.

“If we can show we can sustain some real viewership numbers for a game then there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do it with the real thing. It’s a great opportunity for us to get sponsors out there, the people that help us daily during the year on the real cars, as well as grow the brands, grow our fan base and just prove to some of these TV executives that this is worth putting on TV.”

While other sports have wrestled with what to do during the unexpected break in the action, racing almost seamlessly transitioned into the virtual world.

NASCAR quickly started the iRacing Pro Invitational Series, which has raced at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway with a field of real-life Cup drivers.

This week, NBC is showcasing a four-night Short Track iRacing Challenge that features Cup drivers competing on iconic short tracks.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will hold its third race this Saturday.

USAC sprints and midgets play host to a weekly iRacing competition with a mixture of real world drivers and eSports champions through one of their internet partners.

“You haven’t really seen the NBA, NFL, NHL any of those really make a big effort,” Swindell said. “I know there have been some small things here and there. I follow the higher up guys at some of the eSports organizations, and they talked a lot on social media lately about how NASCAR is basically killing everybody right now in managing to make something out of our situation. I think it’s saying a lot. They’ve had the biggest eSports on TV numbers.”

NASCAR’s virtual race at Texas drew 1.3 million viewers.

“It’s now in everybody else’s court to see if some of this other stuff can move forward,” Swindell said. “It will be interesting to see how the Call of Duty league and some of the actual eSports leagues do in this time as well to compare.”

On Wednesday April 8, the Outlaws iRacing series returns to action on a virtual version of Knoxville Raceway, the track with the deepest ties to Swindell’s journey. A win on the virtual dirt would prove what Swindell continues to prove, that success lies in adaptably.

If he can win that night, it will almost be as if he never lost a beat.

Editor’s Note: Victoria Beaver contributed to this report.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

Kevin Swindell climbs into his car to qualify Sept. 20, 2013 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for his lone NASCAR Cup start (Justin Edmonds/NASCAR via Getty Images).

In tears after the Indianapolis 500, Santino Ferrucci is proud of his third-place finish


INDIANAPOLIS – Santino Ferrucci was in tears after last Sunday’s 107th Indy 500.

The AJ Foyt Racing driver from Woodbury, Connecticut had just driven the best race of his career, only to have the final yellow flag of the race fly just a second or two before he would have been in position for the win.

The field had just been given the green flag with four laps to go and Ferrucci was charging in the No. 14 Chevrolet into Turn 1, about to pass both Josef Newgarden for second place, which would have put him in prime position to draft past Marcus Ericsson for the victory.

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIES: Newgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

But IndyCar race control issued the third red flag stoppage in the final 15 laps of the race and with Ferrucci 2 inches behind Newgarden’s Chevrolet, he was lined up third.

When IndyCar had the remaining drivers refire the engines for three-quarters of a lap behind the Pace Car followed by a one-lap green and white flag dash to the finish, Ferrucci knew there was little he could do to get past the front two cars.

Newgarden passed Ericsson on the backstretch and went on to take the checkered flag for his first Indianapolis 500 victory. Ericsson was just 0.0974-of-a-second away from winning the Indy 500 for the second year in a row and Ferrucci was 0.5273-of-a-second away from winning his first career NTT IndyCar Series race.

It was a fantastic effort for Ferrucci, but to come so close to winning the biggest race in the world, the kid from Connecticut was heartbroken.

“We were so good this month,” Ferrucci told NBC Sports after climbing out of his car. “When you are that fast all month long, you just want it that much more. The way we did everything to finish the race under green, it’s great for the fans, IndyCar did the right thing, but sometimes it’s a tough pill to swallow restarting third like that when you are really second.

“It’s all timing and scoring. That doesn’t lie. If it says we are third, we are third. It’s very bittersweet.”

When Ericsson and Newgarden were both “Unleashing the Dragon” with the draft-breaking zigzag moves at the end of the race, Ferrucci admitted he was hoping it would play into his favor if those two made contact ahead of him.

“I was hoping and praying because when you are third, that’s all you can do – hope and pray,” Ferrucci said.

His prayers were not answered, but his determination to win the Indianapolis 500 remains undeterred.

He has never finished outside of the top 10 in the Indianapolis 500. Ferrucci was seventh as a rookie in 2019, fourth in 2020, sixth in 2021, 10th last year and third this past Sunday.

“I love this place,” the driver said. “I love coming here. I’m always so comfortable in the race. We are good at avoiding all of the accidents that happened in front of us.

“We will win it eventually. We have to.”

Ferrucci has proven he likes to rise to the big moments.

“I like the pressure,” he said. “We do well under pressure.

“But you have to take third, sometimes.

“We had a really good shot at winning this race. We made the most of it.”

Ferrucci continues to display the uncanny knack for racing hard and avoiding trouble. When he took the lead in the No. 14 car made famous by his team owner, legendary four-time Indianapolis 500 winner AJ Foyt, many of the fans in the crowd of 330,000 roared with approval.

Ferrucci was in front for 11 laps and was in prime position to pounce at the end, before the final 15 laps brought out red flag fever.

Because of that, and the timing of where he was when the last yellow light came on before the final red, put him in a difficult position to win the race.

“It’s just emotional, bittersweet,” he said. “It was emotional getting in the car, which was kind of strange because you feel like there’s a lot of people that really want this, the team really wants this.

“We worked so hard to be where we were. We ran out front all day long. It’s definitely one of the more difficult races that I’ve probably ever run, and just we also knew that we had a really good car.

“We got really close with Felix Rosenqvist when he was wrecking so very thankful, we were able to avoid that. And then yeah, coming to the end, I think on the second to final restart, me and Marcus battling it into 1, and obviously it going red when it did, it’s part of this place, it’s part of racing, it’s part of the Speedway.

“I’m just bummed. I’m sure Marcus Ericsson thinks the same thing I do.

“All three of us could have won it at any point in time.

“Yeah, it’s bittersweet.”

A few days have passed since Ferrucci was crying when he got out of the race car. He celebrated his birthday on Wednesday by mowing his lawn after a 12-hour drive back to his home in Texas. On Thursday morning, he flies to Detroit to get ready for this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown Detroit.

It has given him a chance to reflect on the biggest weekend of his career.

“Everybody saw on national television I was basically crying,” Ferrucci said. “It’s just one of those competitor things in you that there was so much riding on that race, and it was going so well up until that — it finished really well.

“It wasn’t just pressure to perform but emotional pressure to just be there and to know that we probably had that race won, had it gone yellow two seconds later, it’s just kind of heartbreaking. But still, at the end of the day, you come home in third, to join Helio Castroneves and one other driver, (Harry Hartz, who finished second, second, fourth, fourth and second from 1922-1926), in five of your first five starts in top 10s. And, then you really start to look at what you’ve accomplished at the 500 in your first five starts with four different teams and what you did with A.J. Foyt — what we’ve done at AJ Foyt Racing, who hasn’t had a podium or top 3 since the year 2000 at the Speedway.

“There are so many positives, and that day could have been so much worse. We had so many close calls between pit lane and some of the crashes on track that at the end of the day I was just really, really happy.

“I went to bed that night knowing that I did the best I could, the team did the best they could, and that’s the track.”

Ferrucci stressed that he didn’t have a problem with IndyCar race control doing everything in their power to make sure the race finished the distance under green.

“The way that IndyCar finished under green was 100 percent correct for the fans,” Ferrucci said. “It didn’t affect anything for me. What affected me wasn’t the red, it was the yellow.

“The second it went yellow, had it gone yellow two seconds later had they waited, which you can’t wait when you’re crashing, so there’s nothing you can do, I was in third, I was about 6 inches behind Newgarden, and that’s very clear in the video.

“At the end of the day, nothing changed for me. The fact that they actually went red and restarted the race gave me that opportunity to win again. I just didn’t have a great restart because it’s chaotic when you just go. You’ve got to also remember there’s no restart zone.

“At that point when you’re going green for one lap, it was really cool to see the shootout, I’m not going to lie, but you know that they’re going green, so you were literally at the hands of the leader on a completely random — you could start going into 3 in the middle of 3 and 4 out of 4. He could start the race whenever he wanted to start the race instead of in the zone, so it was completely unpredictable.

“(Ericsson) had a really good jump, and I did not. That’s what took me out of the win at the end of the race. It had nothing to do with IndyCar or the red in my opinion.”

Ferrucci and rookie teammate Benjamin Pedersen helped put a smile on 88-year-old AJ Foyt’s face in what started as the one of the saddest months of Foyt’s life after his wife of 68 years, Lucy, died.

Foyt returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dealing with grief, but for the past three weeks, he was able to see his racing team return to prominence.

I think he was really proud,” Ferrucci said of Foyt. “There’s truly two people that understood my emotions and felt my emotions on Sunday. A.J. was one, and Michael Cannon (his engineer) was the other.

“If you look at some of the photos from that day, you can kind of see it in my eyes, just — you really have to have it in your hands and then lose it in your hands to kind of understand that feeling of when you work that hard. You have to understand you’re coming from a team with two cars, a budget that’s a quarter of the size of Penske and Ganassi, and that’s all month long. We wanted it probably that much more than everybody else that day.

“To come up that short, A.J.’s finished second and third on dominant days in the ’70s, and he talked about those races, where we had the car to win. We were by far the best car at the end of that race. Once the Team McLarens were out of it and the 10 car and the 21 had the incident in pit lane, that left us.

“We were the car to win, and yeah, just sitting third knowing there’s nothing you can do, after all that hard work, yeah, it’s a feeling that very few people would understand.

“But he was incredibly proud of I think what the organization accomplished. I’m very proud of Larry and what Larry Foyt has done with the team because Larry has had control of this team since 2007, and to see him get his first podium as a team boss and team owner at the speedway was huge.

“I think everybody was incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500