Tony Stewart and sprint cars have been literally joined at the hip for the better part of his racing life.
It’s where he finds solitude, clears his head of pressing business and personal concerns and is the only way he knows how to get back to why he began racing in the first place: for the sheer love and enjoyment of it.
It would not have been surprising to many if Stewart gave up sprint car racing after suffering a severely mangled and broken leg in an August 2013 crash, the worst wreck of his entire racing career on any level.
Yet less than three months ago, Stewart came back to the world he goes to when he wants to get away from the other world where he’s a star.
His August 9 race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, which resulted in the tragic death of fellow racer Kevin Ward Jr., was only the fourth sprint car race Stewart had competed in since climbing back into the often unpredictable vehicles for the first time just a month earlier.
In an interview with The Associated Press, his first wide-ranging discussion with any media outlet since the Ward tragedy, that fateful wreck may very well wind up being the last time we see Stewart in a sprint car any time soon – if ever again.
“I would say it’s going to be a long time before you ever see me in a sprint car again, if ever,” Stewart told AP writer Jenna Fryer. “I don’t have any desire at this moment to get back in a (sprint) car.
“If I had the option to go right now to a race, I wouldn’t. I don’t even know when I’ll go to a sprint car race again to watch. I can promise you it’s going to be a long time before you ever see me back in one.”
Stewart has a long record of philanthropy to the racing world. He’s contributed several million dollars in the last decade to Victory Junction Gang Camp, which was established to honor the life of Adam Petty, grandson of NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty and son of former driver turned TV analyst Kyle Petty.
Adam Petty was killed in a wreck while practicing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000.
Stewart loves dirt racing so much that he owns several teams and even purchased – some might say he financially rescued – Eldora Raceway in Ohio nearly a decade ago and quickly and extensively upgraded it to arguably one of the finest dirt tracks in the country.
Yet Stewart doesn’t want his benevolence to be publicized, for the most part. He does it because he feels it’s the right thing to do, particularly with some of the money he’s given and equipment he’s purchased for fellow sprint car drivers over the years.
Now, though, because of both his broken leg incident and the Ward tragedy, Stewart has been vilified by many who say he should only do his racing in his day job in NASCAR.
“It’s hurt for 16 months to sit and be scrutinized for it,” Stewart told Fryer, adding. “and to try to give back to a sport that you love, and every time you turn around, you’ve got to constantly defend yourself for doing something and trying to support something that you believe in and care about.”
There’s no question that sprint car racing is one of Stewart’s greatest loves and joys, and will continue to be – even if it means he never gets behind the wheel on another dirt track again in his life.
“I went to go have fun for a night (at Canandaigua), and that’s not what ended up happening,” Stewart said.
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