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.

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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).

Jack Miller wins MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his points slide


Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.