TONY STEWART: Driver, Owner, Philanthropist
Birth Date: May 20, 1971
Birthplace: Columbus, Ind.
Hometown: Columbus, Ind.
Residence: Columbus, Ind.
Marital Status: Single
Pick a racing series. Choose a style of racecar. Name a venue. Chances are, Tony Stewart has proven victorious.
The driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has scored 12 championships since he first wheeled a go-kart in 1978 at a Westport, Ind., racetrack.
His most widely known titles are the three he scored in NASCAR’s pinnacle series. The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion earned his first crown in 2002 by beating veteran racer Mark Martin by 38 points and a second in 2005 when he bested Greg Biffle by 35 points. His third title was earned in 2011 after winning the season finale at Homestead Speedway to edge Carl Edwards on a tiebreaker (most wins). It was the first championship for a driver/owner since 1992 when Alan Kulwicki accomplished the feat.
In 2009 Stewart became the first driver/owner to win a Sprint Cup race since Ricky Rudd was victorious in 1998. Stewart found victory lane five times during the season including the prestigious Sprint All-Star Race and the million dollar purse that accompanied it.
Championships begat championships for Stewart, as the Columbus, Ind.-native came to NASCAR in 1999 by way of the IRL IndyCar Series, where he was the series champion in 1997. And before he made his mark in Indy cars, Stewart made a name for himself in the rough-and-tumble world of the United States Auto Club (USAC). He has four USAC championships, including what at the time was an unprecedented win of USAC’s “Triple Crown.”
USAC’s top-three national touring divisions are Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown. After winning the Midget title in 1994 and finishing 10th and sixth in the Sprint and Silver Crown divisions, respectively, Stewart went out and set a new standard of excellence in 1995 by winning all three divisions. No driver had ever won the Sprint, Midget and Silver Crown championships – divisions that run three very different types of racecars which compete on both asphalt and dirt – in a single season until Stewart came along.
A hint of Stewart’s impending success could be seen when he was still a youngster, for in 1980 at age eight, Stewart had won his first championship – a 4-cycle rookie junior class championship at the Columbus Fairgrounds. Two more karting championships followed, but this time on a national level – the 1983 International Karting Federation Grand National championship and the 1987 World Karting Association National championship.
Throw in a title from the 30-year-old International Race of Champions (IROC) during that series’ final year of operation in 2006, and it’s clear that Stewart is in a league of his own.
He is the first and only driver to have won championships in stock cars, Indy cars and open-wheel Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown cars. And his three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships made him one of just 9 drivers who have scored three or more Cup titles.
Along the way, Stewart has won some of the biggest races in motorsports. He is a two-time winner of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (2005 and 2007), a six-time winner of the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011) and a two-time winner of the famed Chili Bowl, an all-star Midget race at the Tulsa (Okla.) Expo Raceway (2002 and 2007). He’s also notched wins in such famed USAC races as the Copper World Classic at Phoenix International Raceway (2000), the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway (2000) and the 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio (1995).
And before he was a race winner and a championship contender, Stewart was a rookie on the rise. The Hoosier won rookie of the year honors in Sprint Cup (1999), the Indianapolis 500 (1996) and USAC (1991).
“When I started racing competitively when I was about seven or eight, getting a trophy that was bigger than the other kids’ was all I cared about,” said Stewart, who enters his 11th year in the vaunted Sprint Cup Series in 2009. “I couldn’t have asked for more out of this life. I feel like I’m a very, very fortunate person, so no matter what happens, no matter how long I race or don’t race, the goals and everything that happens from here is just icing on the cake. I’ve been very lucky to do the things I’ve done.”
Stewart’s racing career began at age seven behind the wheel of a go-kart, with his father, Nelson, serving as car owner and crew chief.
“He never let me settle for second,” said Stewart of his dad, who still frequents races whenever his schedule permits. “He didn’t like it when we ran second, and he knew that I didn’t like it when we ran second. If he saw that I wasn’t giving 100 percent, then he was on me pretty hard about it. He pushed me to be better.
“He never pressured me to be the best racecar driver in the world, but he did pressure me to be the best racecar driver that I could be. He never compared me to anybody else. He expected that what I could do was what I could do. He never said that because this guy over here could do something that I should be able to do it, too. He pushed me hard, but he was fair about it. That’s probably why you see so much fire in me today, because he always wanted me to be the best that I could be.”
By 1989, Stewart began the transition from go-karts to higher-horsepower, open-wheel machines. He raced Three-Quarter Midgets before turning his attention to the USAC ranks in 1991.
His first USAC championship in 1994 came to fruition thanks to five wins in 22 starts in the National Midget category. It as a prelude to Stewart’s historic “Triple Crown” triumph in 1995.
That success led Stewart to earn a ride in the fledgling IndyCar Series. He made the most of it by winning the series championship in 1997, which sewed the seeds of Stewart’s current success in NASCAR. A slate of 22 NASCAR Nationwide Series races with Joe Gibbs Racing in 1998 prepared Stewart for his assault on the Cup ranks in 1999.
During that remarkable rookie season, where Stewart won three races en route to the rookie of the year title, he also competed in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. The grueling trek, known as “Double Duty,” saw Stewart compete in an Indy car at Indianapolis before flying to Concord, N.C., to compete in the Coca-Cola 600 that evening at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. He became the first driver to complete both races in the same day, finishing ninth and fourth, respectively. All told, Stewart drove a total of 1,090 miles.
Stewart repeated this feat in 2001, when he drove an Indy car for Chip Ganassi at Indy. He bettered his mark from 1999 by finishing on the lead lap in sixth before jetting off to Concord for the Coca-Cola 600. He improved that finish as well, coming home third in the 600-miler. When it was all said and done, Stewart completed all 1,100 miles – breaking his own record for most racing miles driven in one day.
Eyebrows were raised on July 10, 2008 when Stewart announced that after spending his entire NASCAR career with Joe Gibbs Racing, he was leaving to become a driver/owner in the Sprint Cup Series with Stewart-Haas Racing. The last driver/owner to win a Sprint Cup race was Ricky Rudd at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Sept. 27, 1998, so many pundits saw Stewart’s new undertaking as a massive, if not impossible, challenge.
But often overlooked was Stewart’s long and successful history as a team owner. Well before Stewart-Haas Racing was even a remote possibility, where from a 144,000-square foot facility in Kannapolis, N.C., more than 250 employees work on behalf of Stewart’s No. 14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Budweiser / Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet and Danica Patrick’s No. 10 Go Daddy / Aspen Dental Chevrolet, Stewart was already setting himself apart from other talented drivers as an equally talented team owner.
As tenacious as Stewart is in the cockpit of a racecar, he’s proven equally adept at providing cars and equipment for racing’s future stars – a way to give back to the grassroots racing series that helped him become a motorsports icon.
In November 2000, Stewart formed Tony Stewart Racing (TSR). And what began as a single World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Car Series team is now a powerful five-team entry with strong footholds in the WoO and USAC. Operating out of state-of-the-art 25,000-square foot facility in Brownsburg, Ind., TSR fields two USAC teams, two WoO teams and a winged sprint car for Stewart to pilot when his schedule allows.
In USAC, TSR fields the No. 20 Chevrolet Performance Parts Sprint Car for 2x-defending USAC National Sprint Series Champion, Bryan Clauson. Bobby East joined TSR in 2012 and has not disappointed, winning the USAC Silver Crown Series in 2012 and 2013 in the No. 10 Chevrolet Performance Parts Silver Crown Car. TSR has won the last four Silver Crown Championships (Levi Jones: 2010 & 2011; East: 2012 & 2013).
In WoO, TSR fields the No. 15 STP / Armor All sprint car for five-time champion Donny Schatz and the No. 11 Bad Boy Buggies / J.D. Byrider sprint car for twenty-time series champion Steve Kinser.
Since its formation, TSR has earned twenty-one driver championships (eighteen owner championships), the most recent of which was East’s USAC Silver Crown car championship which was claimed in the summer of 2013 and Clauson’s USAC Sprint car championship which was claimed in the fall of 2013.
Danny Lasoski earned TSR’s first championship in its inaugural season competing in the WoO, taking the 2001 championship. J.J. Yeley, Stewart’s former NASCAR teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, earned a USAC Sprint car championship for TSR in 2003. And in a co-owner role with Bob East, TSR won four straight USAC Silver Crown championships from 2002 to 2005 with drivers: Yeley and Dave Steele. In 2006, TSR earned the USAC Sprint car title with driver Josh Wise. Additionally, TSR has eight Knoxville Nationals championships in the WoO, as Lasoski captured wins in the famed winged sprint car event in 2001, 2003 and 2004, while Schatz earned a Knoxville Nationals victory for TSR in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Secondary to winning, the mission of TSR has been to select and groom future driving talent. Less than a decade into TSR’s existence, that mission has already been realized.
On the heels of his 2006 USAC Sprint car title, Wise followed the path treaded by Stewart to NASCAR, where he’s currently making a go at the stock car set by competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series. His move onto the next level of motorsports, and the earlier advancement of Yeley who has five years of NASCAR competition, was representative of Stewart’s goal for his racing teams – to serve as a springboard into racing’s upper echelons. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who filled in for an injured Tracy Hines during much of the 2007 season, is the most recent example of the TSR ladder system, for the 21-year-old won the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series and will participate in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2013.
“Our goal when we formed Tony Stewart Racing was to create a grassroots motorsports program that would compete for wins and championships while promoting qualified drivers to the next level,” Stewart said. “We’ve been successful, but in order to remain successful we needed a partner committed to us and committed to motorsports. We found the perfect partner in Chevy and we fully expect our track record of having drivers progress to continue to advance to the next level.”
In addition to TSR, Stewart also owns the legendary Eldora Speedway. The half-mile dirt oval is where Stewart frequently raced as an up-and-coming USAC driver, and it hosts several of the year’s largest dirt racing events. Stewart has proven to be a hands-on owner, assisting with everything from preparing the track to handing out awards during the season-ending championship banquet. Stewart is also part-owner of two other racetracks – Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway and Macon (Ill.) Speedway.
As much as Stewart is devoted to racing, he is also devoted to philanthropy, so much so that he formed his own charitable foundation in 2003. Known simply as the Tony Stewart Foundation, the 501(c)(3) organization’s goal is to raise funds that will be primarily distributed to three specific groups – chronically ill children, drivers injured in motorsports activities and organizations dedicated to the protection of various animal species. To date, the Foundation has awarded over $5 million to assist charitable initiatives for more than 130 organizations throughout the United States. One of the prime beneficiaries of the Foundation is the Victory Junction Gang Camp, which serves as a year-round camp for children ages seven to 15 with an assortment of life-threatening illnesses.
While not seeking accolades, Stewart’s charitable efforts have nonetheless been noticed. He was named “Most Caring Athlete” by USA Weekend in 2004, and in that same year, was tabbed by The Sporting News as “NASCAR’s ‘Good Guy’ and received the NASCAR USG Person of the Year award. In 2008, NASCAR Illustrated bestowed upon Stewart its Person of the Year award, as Stewart’s annual Prelude to the Dream all-star dirt late model race at Eldora Speedway has raised more than $4 million for charity.
Stewart, single, still calls Columbus home, where he lives in his newly built log home. He has a sister, Natalie, who assists with Tony Stewart Fan Club initiatives along with their mom, Pam Boas, who also is involved with his Foundation and their father, Nelson Stewart.