On this day in 1955, Sammy Swindell, who becomes a star in the outlaw sport of sprint-car racing, is born in Germantown, Tennessee. In 1971, when he was just 15 years old, Swindell raced for the first time on a dirt track at the Riverside Speedway in Arkansas. Since he started dirt-track racing, Swidell has never finished a season outside the top 10.
When Swindell began his career, he was a member of a motley crew of drivers known as the Band of Outlaws. These men, according to the Los Angeles Times, were “a gypsy bunch of maverick sprint car drivers who made their mark racing… on seedy little tracks, running with virtually no rules, sometimes wearing only T-shirts and Levi’s. They went where the money was and no questions asked.” Their races were unsanctioned by the U.S. Auto Club, the organization that ran the Indianapolis 500 and other “respectable” paved-track races. Instead, the Band of Outlaws competed in catch-as-catch-can affairs put on at county fairgrounds and makeshift clay loops across the Midwest.
Outlaw-style racing, usually called sprint-car racing, was a throwback to the early, scrappy days of motorsports, when drivers like Barney Oldfield and A.J. Foyt careened around hard-packed dirt roads in big, open-topped cars. Sprint cars banged into one another as they screeched around the track; they churned giant grooves into the dirt and dared one another to clatter over them without flipping; they used oversized tires, called “humpers,” on their right rear wheels to help them accelerate more flamboyantly; and they had wings, or huge canopies that held them down on the track and helped them go faster. And sprint-car racing was dangerous: in the 1970s and 1980s, at least one driver was killed almost every weekend. Today, sprint-car racing is a little safer but no less pugnacious.
In the 1980s, Sammy Swindell dabbled in more mainstream racing—he joined the Indy Car circuit first, then NASCAR—but his heart remained with the Outlaws. In 2009, he rejoined the sprint-car circuit full time. In all, he has won three Outlaw titles and 268 races.