Just Begins to Change the World of Auto Racing
Tony Stewart is now in his retirement season as a NASCAR Sprint Cup full time driver but
don’t for a minute think you have heard the last of Smoke. The demonstration of love and
respect he received this week at Indy was only a small portion of the adoration and respect he
receives wherever he goes from loyal fans, sponsors and competitors in all forms of auto racing.
Tony has come a long way from the grassroots of racing. Not being born with a silver spoon
he made it up through the sport the hard way…hard work, dedication and a burning desire to
succeed in the sport he loves. Born in the Midwestern town of Columbus Indiana he has stayed
true to his roots and still lives there today calling it his favorite place to be. His sanctuary is
Hidden Hollow Ranch where he escapes when he can for some time fishing and watching the
wildlife on the 1400-acre expanse he calls home with his beloved dog, Max. He even still owns
the house he grew up in also in Columbus close to the school he attended as a kid. Tony
Stewart as far as he’s come has not forgotten where he came from or the people who helped
His start in go carts was just the kindling that would ignite the fire that would take him into
stardom and bring into play the well-known and well-loved name, Smoke. He became the first
driver to ever win USAC's version of the Triple Crown, earning championships in all three of
USAC's major divisions, National Midget, Sprint, and Silver Crown, receiving the honor this week
of being installed in the USAC Hall of Fame. In 1997 Stewart won the Indy Racing League
Championship winning at Pikes Peak where he led all but seven laps of the 200-mile race.
Many racers could only dream of acquiring this kind of success but Tony Stewart was only getting
Stewart moved over for his first taste of NASCAR racing in the Busch series and impressed
then Redskins Coach Joes Gibbs who was a successful car owner in the Cup series while still
competing in the IRL. Stewart wanted to race. If there was a race he wanted to be there. He
won twice and finished third in points in the IRL and in Busch Series, he finished in the top-five
five times in 22 starts. That gave Joe Gibbs the confidence he needed to offer Stewart a Sprint
Cup ride for the 1999 season. With that offer, Stewart ended his three-year career as a full-time
IRL driver and the beloved superstar we know today began to heat up and take the spotlight.
Tony turned up the wick and impressed with qualifying on the outside pole for his first
Daytona 500 and battling for the lead with Dale Earnhardt in the closing laps of the 125 lap
qualifier. Stewart drove a Pontiac with the sponsor Home Depot which would bring him
popularity and recognition with this national name brand. Fuel is added to the fire! No one was
surprised when he was crowned Rookie of the Year. Stewart also competed in the Memorial
Day Double and attempted to race 1,100 miles on Memorial Day weekend, as he competed in
both the Indy 500 during the day and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C., at night. He finished
in the Top 10 at both races. Quite a feat for the up and coming rookie who was leaving his mark
and had people remembering his name.
Tony began to have his name remembered in a number of ways. His passion as a hard racer,
his obvious natural talent and fan appeal but also his fiery temper and his love/hate
relationship with the media. You loved him or you hated him but you never had to guess what
was on his mind. As the changing of the guard was beginning with the arrival of such stars as
Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Stewart was a better fit to the Earnhardt era of “old school”
racing. Rubbing was racing, you raced hard, you got all you had out of your car, you spoke your
mind and you never gave up. He was and is passionate and fiery about racing and sometimes
you just need to burn some smoke!! His unveiled personality was why the fans loved him. He
doesn’t feel like he has to be a fake polished up media darling to do what he does. He was born
with a natural charisma that bring sponsors and fans by the groves. He speaks from the heart
always true to the upbringing that began at home in Columbus Indiana.
Being an avid fan of over 30 years I have seen them come and I have seen them go. I have
studied NASCAR and the drivers and Tony Stewart is a visionary. He is 100% on top of today’s
job but his vision for the future of auto racing is exceptional and he intends on going there and
being a leader in getting there.
In 2001 Tony was involved in the scariest Sprint Cup crash of his career when he was involved
in an 18-car crash. Stewart took the worst and was hit and turned backwards flipping twice and
coming to a rest in the infield. He was transported to Halifax Medical Center. Little did he know
that a short time later Dale Earnhardt would be pronounced dead in the next cubicle. NASCAR
changed that day and has not stopped since.
With the NASCAR world and this fan shaken we all looked for a reason to go on. Many turned
their support to Dale Earnhardt Jr. because of loyalty to his father. I too watched JR but was
never able to make the connection or see the fire in him I saw in the Intimidator. The
Intimidator loved racing. He lived and breathed racing. He was a natural at it. It was born in him
and came up from the gut and he raced wide open all the time. Racing was the #1 priority. Tony
Stewart, not Dale Jr. brought the fiery passion back to this race fan with his swagger on and off
In 2001 Tony was teamed up with Crew Chief Greg Zipadelli which to this day remains a
guiding force in Tony’s career. 2001 also earned Stewart the reputation of being NASCAR’S
“badboy” including run ins with Jeff Gordon, NASCAR and the media but in a highlight of the
season he ran his second Memorial Day double and finished both, a 6 th at Indianapolis and a 3 rd
at Charlotte. By the end of this season all the elements were in place for real success with the
backing of Joe Gibbs and the chemistry between Stewart and Zipadelli.
The 2002 season started off with a whimper instead of bark but Stewart and Zipadelli
persevered and overcame injury, fines, penalties and loss of points to go on an end of the
season streak that would bring Stewart his first Championship and plant his feet firmly on the
ground of NASCARS superstars.
The 2003 season became a rebuilding season for Stewart as the Gibbs organization changed
manufactures from Pontiac to Chevrolet. He did show his no give up spirit and drive to post
wins at Charlotte and Pocono and was highly competitive by seasons end. 2004 Tony Stewart
would begin his first steps to changing the face of Auto racing with his purchase of the World’s
premier dirt track Eldora Speedway from then owner Earl Baltes. This was holy ground to Tony.
He had raced there since 1991 and had dreams of all it could be and was humbled and honored
that Baltes would trust him with his legacy. That year Stewart also finished 2 nd to Dale Earnhardt
Jr. in the Daytona 500, leading 98 laps. This year he qualified for what would be the first ever
Nextel Chase Championship. Several wrecks and incidents through the year would leave him 6 th
in the standings but not dousing the fire in his soul.
2005 would bring Stewart’s second Championship and his notoriety flourished with the help
of sponsor Home Depot with national commercials and promotions. His fan base was growing
and his widespread appeal was obvious. His hard nose racing style, his striking good looks and
engaging personality appealed to both male and female fans alike and his influence began to
In 2006 Stewarts realm of influence would continue to grow as he stepped into other series
to prove his ability as a driver and his gut wrenching desire and passion to win. His fiery
personality became evident again as he was involved in several on and off track incidents and
did not qualify for the Chase but the season was still nourishing the roots of his growing racing
dream. Stewart's Eldora Speedway hosted the highly touted NEXTEL PRELUDE with NASCAR
drivers, as well as the ARCA Truck Series. Stewart went on to participate in the 30th season of
IROC and won 2 of the 4 races (Texas, and the Daytona road course) and captured the IROC
Championship. At this point he tried to garner a deal with IROC to hold an event at Eldora but
was unable and IROC folded the next year. That leaves one to wonder where IROC might be if it
had it had jumped on the star power of Stewart and went with a highly publicized event at
Stewart continued over the next years to continue his racing activities outside of the Sprint
Cup Series. In 2007 he won his second Chili Bowl Nationals in a midget sprint car. Stewart’s
popularity remained obvious as he was tapped again to be featured for the cover of the
NASCAR video game which increased his appeal to the younger age fans. Stewart got his 30 th
NASCAR Sprint Cup win this year and also won his second beloved Brickyard 400 in his home
Mid-season of 2008 Stewart made the first steps into the powerhouse and influential
businessman we know today. Stewart made a deal with car owner Gene Haas into a co-owning
partnership creating Stewart Haas Racing which has now become one of NASCAR’S premier
teams. He was released from Joe Gibbs Racing with many speculating if he was making a good
move. Stewart remained loyal to Chevrolet who also sponsored all of Tony Stewart Racing
which consisted of his USAC Midget, Sprint Car, and Silver Crown teams. He signed Ryan
Newman as driver and his list of accomplishments grew and his legacy in the world of racing
was coming into view. Stewart was now the highest paid NASCAR driver on the scene.
Stewart won his first race as an owner in a popular event with fans, the NASCAR Sprint All-
Star Race, where he won more than $1,000,000. He continued to show that year with his vision,
desire and competitive spirit he made the right decision and Stewart Haas Racing was the real
deal and here to stay. 2010 say the exit of Stewart’s Old Spice sponsorship but the addition of
Mobile 1 who remains with him today. In 2011 NASCAR saw Stewart pull off the win for the
championship in the closest battle ever with a late season charge to beat Carl Edwards in a
tiebreaker. Stewart was the first owner/driver to win a championship since 1992 when owner
Alan Kulwicki accomplished the difficult feat.
In 2012 Stewart Haas Racing gained notoriety by signing female Indy car driver Danica Patrick
who received a lot of media coverage and put the focus on the team coming into Daytona.
Stewart was working behind the scenes to form other partnerships and deals with other racing
entities to further the growth of his overall vision.
In late 2013 Stewart would begin a period in his life that would show the depth of his character
and of his spirit and the fire within him while leading a sprint car race at Southern Iowa
Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Smoke was involved in a multi-car crash when a lapped car spun
in front of him. The hit broke both the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg. He was taken
to a local hospital where surgery was performed. A second surgery was performed later in
which a metal rod was inserted into the tibia. He would be out for the remainder of the season
while he underwent painful and intensive therapy in order to get back to the place he loved
most, behind the wheel, the place he was born to be. Stewart was cleared and ready to race at
2014’s opening race the Daytona 500 saying he was about 65% healed but 100% in mind and
ready without fear to step back in the car.
In July of that year Stewart made clear his love for his dirt racing roots by returning to Sprint
cars at Tri-City Motor Speedway winning in dominating fashion in a huge comeback story
deepening the roots of his never give up attitude. Stewart himself said this gave him a huge
confidence boost after the struggles of the last year.
In August again this year Stewart would once again experience tragedy in his life as an
accident would occur while driving his Sprint car where another driver, Kevin Ward Jr. was
killed. This became a time of heartbreak for Tony and all those around him who loved and cared
about him but his fans remained firmly behind him and never wavered in their faith in him.
In 2015 Stewart struggled with the aero package saying it did not fit his driving style and it
seemed he was no longer the Stewart of old. Some fans became frustrated and media began to
write stories of doubt in Stewarts ability. True fans, like myself, never for a minute doubted
Smoke would rise. Little did I know before years’ end, Stewart would announce his retirement
from Sprint Cup driving at the end of the 2016 season naming Clint Bowyer to replace him in
the famous #14. I was not shocked but a little melancholy for no longer seeing Tony on the
track every weekend but I just felt in my heart this was not a hasty decision and he was only
beginning to spread his influence across the NASCAR world. I felt he would return to his roots
and take a more active role in his dirt racing teams and Eldora Speedway. I began to feel
positive about the decision and look forward to celebrating with him his retirement ride.
At this point Stewart is in the middle of that ride and he is again the Smoke of old recovering
from another what could have been career ending injury when breaking his back in a dune
buggy accident while riding the dunes outside San Diego with some of his fellow competitors.
This might stop lesser men but would barely slow Stewart down while out of the car he
continued working on his vision and other areas and ventures in his racing empire. Stewart has
already returned to his seat in the #14 and received a medical waiver with a win and a top 30 in
the points standings, both of which he currently has in hand.
Stewart and team with new Crew Chief Mike “Buga”Bugarewicz secured the team a spot in
the chase with a heartwarming and much celebrated win on the road course at Sonoma
California. He is now on his way to a fourth championship run and is one of the most heralded.
drivers on the NASCAR circuit. His fan base and partnerships run deep into auto racing and he
has become one of the most influential owner, driver, and promoters of our time.
Stewart now owns and controls teams in the Sprint Cup Series, USAC, the World of Outlaws
Sprint Car Series and now the All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Series and has just made
an announcement that they will be adding a Xfinity team to SHR in 2017. His vision is unlimited
and looking from where he’s come and seeing how far he’s come it’s easy to imagine he is only
just beginning now that he will not be limited to a rigorous time schedule.
His passion for grassroots racing and a love for the thrill of high speed dirt racing will soon be
seen as he steps away from being just a Sprint Cup driver to being a force to be reckoned with
all over the racing world. For his fans there is no reason to fret. Tony Stewart is not going
anywhere. He will probably be seen more and be more accessible to fans than ever as he is
reborn into his new role. Smoke is rising higher than ever before and his fans will be able to
cheer him on for years to come as he continues to get behind the wheel to feed his hunger in
many types of cars and series. Small town tracks and dirt tracks around the country will be the
better from the work and the vision of this small town boy from Indiana as he begins to bring
opportunity and focus to the guys who race weekly for small purses, numerous nights a week
barely making it from race to race. Tony is generous and has a desire for all the guys with
dreams like those he had as a boy can come true. Look for Smoke on the horizon, it is rising at a
high rate of speed from a fire that cannot be doused by struggle or adversity. Tony Stewart is a
winner and will continue to be for many years to come as his legacy continues to grow and his
life becomes tightly embedded in the dirt of his racing roots.