Internet Desk: Last year during the month of June, three-time NASCAR winner Tony Stewart was rejoicing his victory circle at Sonama Raceway.
Tony’s suit was sweat-stained and dripping in celebratory champagne. Stewart was very much exhausted after three hours of continuous racing in a very hot day.
His win in the save Mart 350 would be his 49th and last in a stellar NASCAR career for Stewart, who earlier announced his retirement as a driver earlier this year.
Surprisingly Stewart found himself back on the victory stand at Sonoma again this past week but this time as a co-owner of the car Kevin Harvic drove to the finish line in this year’s hurdle.
Dressed in a neatly pressed shirt emblazoned with the Stewart-Haas Racing logo during the race, he traded a seat in a race car for one on top of the pit box as he monitored radio traffic among his four team cars.
“I’d like to be here every year,” said Stewart, referring to the victory stand at Sonoma. “It’s just as gratifying to be here as a car owner as it was as a driver.”
Overseeing a four-car race team at NASCAR’s highest level would be a big job for anyone. But the team is just one part of his racing business empire that includes the infamous Eldora Speedway half-mile dirt track in Ohio, the Arctic Cat All-Star Championship Series that sanctions sprint car racing in the Midwest, and a sprint car team on the national World of Outlaws tour.
It’s a lot to keep track of and hardly what most people think of as a retirement. Yet Stewart seems happier than he has been in years.
“There’s a lot less stress in my life since I gave up my day job and the Thursday to Sunday schedule for 40 weeks a year,” the 46-year-old Stewart said with a big smile.
Racing has been the center of Stewart’s life through short track championships in USAC, an Indy Racing League title and 18 years and three championships in NASCAR. That continues in his retirement.
“I get the best of all worlds and I don’t know how it could be any better for me,” said Stewart. “I get to be at Eldora, be here with my team and race my dirt car.”
Last weekend, he spent Saturday night like any typical short tracker; in a sprint car on a dirt track, racing in the Boys and Girls Club Dirt Classic.
Calistoga Speedway, the half-mile dirt track at the Napa County Fairgrounds, holds a special memory for Stewart and his fans. In the only time he raced on the track, he handily won a USAC midget race during a barnstorming tour of the country in 1994. That win and many others led to him becoming the first driver to win all three of USAC’s national championships (midgets, sprint cars and dirt championship cars) in a single season.
“I can’t believe how many people still remember that night and talk about Calistoga,” said Stewart, “even though it’s been 23 years.”
He wasn’t quite as successful last Saturday as he was that night back in 1994, finishing 10th in the feature race. The track is significantly different than it was decades ago and Stewart was in a local car that he was driving for the first time. But the love affair between Stewart and his fans seemed timeless.
“It was good to see such excitement at the track and the energy of the event,” he said about the Classic, which drew a record crowd and one of the largest field of cars in recent years.
“The track didn’t really suit my (driving) style, but I had fun,” said Stewart, who stayed in the darkened pit area signing autographs and talking to fans until nearly midnight before making his way back to Sonoma Raceway for his spot on the pit box on Sunday.