TULSA, Okla.—Sammy Swindell has seen just about everything at the Chili Bowl Nationals.
This week marks his 29th start in the 33-year-old Super Bowl of Midget Racing. During that run, Swindell has accumulated a record five Golden Drillers and 24 A-Main appearances.
On Saturday, Swindell, 63, hopes to make his 25th.
“It’s changed a lot since the first one,” Swindell told RacinBoys.com of his Chili Bowl success. “There are probably not many who were here for the first one that are here today.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate here. It seems like I can adapt to the track, and I’ve been in good cars. That kind of makes it a bit easier, but it’s a pretty good number for this type of racing.”
When Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards debuted the indoor 40-lapper in 1987 (now 55 laps), Swindell won his heat and finished sixth in the one day show that included a 20-midget field with a D, C, B and A-Main. Rich Vogler came from 13th to win the inaugural event. Swindell’s first A-Main victory came in 1989.
In 1991, the Chili Bowl expanded to a three-day show. Swindell won his heat on Friday followed by the A-Main and finished second to Lealand McSpadden in the feature. He came back to win his second Golden Driller the following year, his third in 1996 and a fourth in 1998.
And no other competitor had come close to matching his titles. By the time Swindell secured a record-fifth Chili Bowl Nationals championship in 2009, the field had grown from 50 midgets in 1987 to well over 200. This year, 362 drivers showed up.
“With more cars, there are probably the same percentage of cars that are capable of winning and cars that aren’t,” Swindell said. “With this draw, you just never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes the cars that aren’t as fast, are a little more harder to pass. They’re kind of in the way, I guess you could say.
“That’s the biggest thing, just trying to get through some of the stuff sometimes. The way the numbers stack up can make it easier or make it really difficult.”
After Swindell’s last CBN title, his son Kevin took over the mantle and set a record for consecutive championships with four from 2010 to 2013. Tragically, the second-generation driver’s racing career ended following a violent wreck in the 2015 Knoxville Nationals.
Swindell doesn’t believe his son’s accomplishment will ever be equaled.
“No, no I don’t think so,” Swindell said. “I’ve had some shots at being back-to-back a few times, but it didn’t work out. It’s been a good place. It’s been fun for me. It seems like most of the times we’ve been competitive. There’s only been a few years that have kept us out. If things go well, maybe we can get another one.”
Swindell ran into trouble in his preliminary night feature when he collided with Alex Bright and finished 15th. After points are added up after Friday’s races, Swindell will know his fate for Saturday.
“You definitely have to have a good race car but you still have to make good decisions,” Swindell said. “It’s tight. It’s close. It seems you’re always around cars for the most part. It’s a lot of chances and a lot of things can happen out there.”
Since 1978, Swindell has competed in the World of Outlaws for all but five seasons. This year, he’ll continue to race winged-sprint cars for Thone Motorsports.
“I’m probably going to do a little more 410 racing this year,” Swindell said. “I’m going to race for Brandon Thone. I drove for him right before the (Knoxville) Nationals last year. We’re going to do maybe 35-40 races and I’ll do a few of the 360 races.”