2023 High Limit Sprint Series at Tri-City Speedway

With Kevin Swindell, Justin Sanders Shows Promise On High Limit's Big Stage

With Kevin Swindell, Justin Sanders Shows Promise On High Limit's Big Stage

Californian Justin Sanders is off to a promising start this High Limit Sprint Car Series season driving for car owner Kevin Swindell.

May 31, 2023 by Kyle McFadden
With Kevin Swindell, Justin Sanders Shows Promise On High Limit's Big Stage

GRANITE CITY, Ill. — What started as a one-off opportunity in last summer’s Knoxville Nationals aboard Kevin Swindell’s SpeedLab No. 39 has morphed into something far more for Justin Sanders.

Through three High Limit Sprint Car Series races, the Aromas, Calif., native is fourth in the standings, 31 points behind leader Kyle Larson and four points behind second-running Anthony Macri. It’s a small sample size, but being ahead of names such as Brent Marks, Rico Abreu and Tyler Courtney, among others, is empowering to the 30-year-old still acquainting himself in winged 410 Sprint Cars.

Sanders is one of California’s top 360 Sprint Car racers, but it wasn’t until last year’s Knoxville Nationals — where he qualified for the main event in just his second half-mile appearance ever — that he’s regularly ventured outside his homeland to race. And to think, Sanders almost turned the opportunity down.

“(Kevin) really took a chance on me. At one point, I was going to tell him I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t have the experience: the Knoxville experience and the big racetrack experience,” Sanders said. “And really any 410 experience on a half-mile. … It wasn’t something I wanted to do. But, then I thought to myself, well, maybe I won’t ever get the chance to do this again.

“It was a life-changing deal, I think. Something I would’ve never thought to do, to make the (Knoxville Nationals) main.”

Sanders started 13th and finished 21st in the Granddaddy of ‘Em All last year, which has ultimately prompted he and Swindell to tap into more of their upstart partnership this year on the High Limit Series.

In May 16’s event at Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio, Sanders finished second to Larson. He now believes he and Swindell have found an ideal package that could put them in position to win races, perhaps as early as Wednesday's High Limit Series event at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill.

“He makes it comfortable. I think that’s kind of the thing for me,” Sanders said of Swindell’s Sprint Car. “I’ve gotten into the car and it’s been comfortable driving. Not saying every other 410 car I’ve driven has been uncomfortable, but I think throughout the full night, he has the car a lot more comfortable to drive. He has it to where we’re able to make speed.

“But also, this High Limit deal has been a deal where I go into this mindset that I have to give it 120 percent every time I’m on the racetrack; I have to be all-out. No matter what track I’m at, I have to figure it out within the first couple laps of hot laps. And make sure I have a good grip of the car and the racetrack. I try not to think about I haven’t been at any of these racetracks either. I just try to get in it, take a couple laps … so far it’s kind of worked out.”

Of all the tracks on the High Limit schedule, Sanders has prior experience at only one: Lincoln Park in Putnamville, Ind., where he actually finished runner-up to Buddy Kofoid in last August’s High Limit debut event.

The key to Sanders’ promising start has been qualifying. In four career High Limit races with Swindell, the Californian has time-trialed sixth at Lincoln Park; 13th at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.; sixth at 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa; and second at Wayne County.

“You definitely have to qualify. If you don’t qualify good, your nights are going to be really rough,” Sanders said. “That’s actually the one thing we’ve been doing really well, is qualifying. Kevin’s cars have been really good; the package. It’s been really good for me. A lot of these races are hard, and a lot of these tracks I haven’t been to. It’s definitely made my job a lot easier.”

Sanders, who already has four 360 wins in California this year, says he has roughly 50 career races in a 410 under his belt. That’s a full season for most 410 racers traveling the country, but enough for Sanders to think he's grown out of 410 rookie status. While 360s and 410s are mostly relative outside the horsepower differential, Sanders is still learning to effectively communicate setup needs.

“The biggest thing between the 410 and 360 is having the motors right,” Sanders said. “Your motors have to run good qualifying and all-out-fast in qualifying. The difference between the 410 and 360 is you have to have a detuned package. You have to know what you’re doing when detuning the motor and make sure it runs right when the tracks start getting slick so you can maintain straightaway speed and keep the maximum amount of throttle into the car as you can to keep the car handling right.

“I think that’s been a learning curve, not so much for Kevin, but us out here (in California). Since driving with Kevin, we’ve gotten our packages out here (in California) to do more detuning throughout the night. It’s getting our engines running right. It just helps our balance package overall. I think with me going out there straight with Kevin, he’s been into all that.”

As far as the rest of Sanders’ season goes, he’ll try and top his 14 overall dirt open-wheel wins from a year ago, which tied him for eighth nationally behind Anthony Macri (24), Buddy Kofoid (20), Brent Marks (18), Aaron Reutzel (16), Carson Macedo (16), Justin Grant (16) and Danny Dietrich (also 14).

He says he enjoys the High Limit deal, so much that he doesn’t dream of traveling with any other Sprint Car series as he balances racing and his vinyl decal business back at home.

“I like what I’m doing now,” Sanders said. “I like California racing. I like going during the week and running the High Limit Series. I kind of thought about running the All Stars. That’d be fun to do for a year or two, and just kind of see how I can do it at all those other tracks. … Three years ago, if you asked me, I’d probably say I want to go on the (American Sprint Car Series) tour. But that’s before I got more comfortable in a 410 and was able to have a little bit of confidence going into some of these bigger races.”

“It took me awhile to get going I guess and to put all the pieces to the puzzle to be able to run other tracks and run other series and what not,” Sanders said. “But now we’re making it work.”