BRISTOL, Tenn. — Sammy Swindell navigated the busy pit area of Bristol Motor Speedway on Thursday night, minding his own business.
Twenty years ago, he captivated that very environment with his second victory in as many years at the concrete track that had been covered with red clay.
Now, in the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Sprint Car Series’ return to Thunder Valley, Swindell blended in, sporting a black down jacket over a burgundy flannel.
Swindell isn’t a part of the 28-driver field for this weekend’s Bristol Throwdown. He is instead the event’s grand marshal, the next best option to remain relevant.
“I would have liked to (race), in a competitive car,” Swindell said. “I thought maybe we had a shot at something. Then it didn’t work out.”
Now 65, Swindell doesn’t have much control over his sprint car rides these days, even if he is a 394-time World of Outlaws winner and the last sprint car driver to win at Bristol. He has raced just five times this year, with a best finish of 10th in the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series opener on March 19 at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Texas.
He hasn’t raced since night two of the ASCS event at Devil’s Bowl on March 20, when he gave an interview that went viral after getting wrecked out of his heat.
“Well, I got another car destroyed by a kid,” Swindell said, his voice raising. “He’s gotta see me. I can’t run into the tractor tire. I have no place to go. I don’t know what these kids think about.”
Frustrating describes it mildly for Swindell, who has not accustomed to sitting on the sidelines.
“It’s different,” Swindell said. “I’m not engaged or involved with a team or a driver like I usually would be. So, it’s like, I have a lot of time to talk to people or chat to people. Or walk around and look at a lot of different things.”
“It’s what it is,” he added. “I get some offers to drive some things, but some of it I’m not interested in doing, really. It’s so much more expensive to run with the [World of Outlaws] or the [All Star Circuit of Champions] and to be competitive. Just haven’t run into that program yet here that would work. I don’t know when my time is coming, when I don’t have the passion or desire or just some health issue.”
One reason Swindell is at Bristol this weekend is so he can ride his 2020 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special and explore a few places, including the famed Tail of the Dragon in the Great Smoky Mountains, which Swindell conquered earlier in the week
“It was kind of on my bucket list,” Swindell said. “I’m just trying to do what I can and have some fun.”
He also visited Knoxville, Tenn. Before this week, he spent a good chunk of time in Key Largo, Fla., fishing with some friends. These are some adventures that now consume Swindell, who applies his frequently-used hashtag of “#StillWinning” to most anything in his life.
But Swindell isn’t finished racing yet. He still feels competitive, but only in the right situation. Anything less isn’t worth it to Swindell, who’s always ready to fill his schedule.
“I’d like to play a little more golf,” Swindell said.
He doesn’t know when he’ll return to the track as a driver. It could be as early as June or as late as August. His racing pursuits have dwindled for good reasons over the years, and now one thing remains.
“I just want to win my last race,” Swindell said.
So, if the National Sprint Car Hall of Famer somehow wins this year, could that be it?
“It could be,” Swindell said. “It could be. It’s going to have to be where I feel, ‘This is the day,’ or ‘This is the race’ or whatever. Until that time comes, you don’t know.”
“I’m not wearing glasses,” Swindell added, a rare smile starting to appear. “For someone my age … I must be OK.”