The crowd at this year’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl was as loud as any NFL stadium. The passion fans have for the best open-wheel racers in the country can be heard over the roar of the engines. After the race, chants of “Rico! Rico! Rico!,” echoed through the confines of the 10-acre River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Rico Abreu had captured the hearts of many after his emotional victory, but quickly those cheers turned to jeers with chants of “Sammy sucks! Sammy sucks!”
Sammy Swindell is a lendary open-wheel racer. He has won more than 300 World of Outlaw Sprint Car races and is a three-time champion. He is also the winningest driver at the Chili Bowl. His current count after Saturday night stands at five.
When you win a lot, often times fans begin to turn the tide of their support to others. And when you drive with the vigor that “Slammin’ Sammy” does, sometimes those fans sound like the philharmonic orchestra with a chorus of boos anytime your name is mentioned.
In fact, when NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Larson won on his prelim night, he referred to Sammy and his son Kevin (a four-time winner of the Chili Bowl) in victory lane by saying, “Anybody but the Swindells, right?” The crowd went nuts in support of Larson’s statement.
Swindell certainly added to that legend in Tulsa during this year’s Chili Bowl week. He drove the alphabet soup on his prelim night, from the D-Main to the A. He missed the automatic cutoff to Saturday’s big dance by just a couple of spots. But, he was able to advance to Saturday’s main event through the B-Feature and set a torrid pace through the field to find himself with a shot to win halfway through the race.
That’s when the tides began to turn. There was contact with several cars along the way, but it was the contact with another racer (EDITORIAL 8:23pm: Removed drivers name. We saw Chad Boat and so did others, but Kevin Swindell said it was not him) that sent Swindell out of control. As he tried to gather it up, Sammy’s son, Kevin, hit his dad and forced him into the wall. Sammy Swindell continued, but his car looked like it was in the middle of a pinball machine for the remainder of the race.
After the race, Swindell made contact with a couple cars, including that of Tanner Thorson, who was casually involved in the initial Boat-contact. Shortly thereafter Larson hit Swindell’s machine.
Those in attendance knew things were about to get ugly. Swindell swiftly climbed out of his car and moved his way through the crowd of people celebrating Abreu’s win. That’s where he saw Larson.
The two had some words for each other. Officials and some others joined in and that’s when there was some pushing and shoving that Swindell was involved in.
While Larson was not involved in any of the physical confrontation, the war of words continued when he fired some barbs in our interview with him in the pit area.
“He’s old. He can’t see. He hits everybody every race. I mean every time I watch him he runs into somebody. Whether it’s during the race, under the caution, or after the race,” said Larson of Swindell. “He starts hitting my teammate. He got to Tanner (Larson’s teammate) again and threw a hail-mary and hit him right in the nerf bar, then went down into the next corner and tried to it again. I get by him and he hit my front end. After the checkered I knew he was going to hit Tanner, so I was just going to go blast him because he deserves it. He’s just an old, ornery guy. He deserves to get knocked out by somebody.”
“They make millions of dollars and then they come here to run over people,” said Sammy Swindell. “You’ve got them guys running over you under yellows and running into you and I just got tired of it. I started doing the same thing. If you’re going to dish it out, you need to suck it up. If they can run over me, then I can run over them better.
“I didn’t appreciate (Larson) running into me after the race and he said I shouldn’t run into his teammates. Well, if he’s going to run up to me because I hit one of his teammates, then he better be prepared to talk to me after the race, one on one if he’s man enough to do that.”
And as far as being old… Swindell had a response for that too.
“I’ll be back,” said Swindell of the Chili Bowl. “I’ll be 60. I bet none of them kids will be back when they’re 60. I bet they won’t be back in their 50s. They’ll be out of business.”
The business for the 30th annual Chili Bowl might have just picked up… better get your ticket now.
By Bob Dillner – Editor, Speed51.com – Twitter: @bobdillner
Photos: (RacinBoys.com – Speed51.com)