Tony Stewart on racing sprint cars, office chairs and Christopher Bell
Tony Stewart teamed with Texas Motor Speedway last weekend to put on Tony Stewart's Texas Sprint Car Nationals presented by Machinery Auctioneers.
Prior to the event, the three-time NASCAR Premier Series champion met with the media and talked about a variety of topics. Here are the highlights:
Why come to Texas to run sprint cars on dirt?
Stewart: “I was scheduled to run a late model race here probably 15 years ago and it got rained out. ... It’s fun to run with Christopher Bell and the ASCS (sprint car) group. They’ve got a lot of young, talented drivers.”
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Why do you think it's important to get the NASCAR and sprint car crowds together?
Stewart: “I think places like Texas and Charlotte that have a dirt track across the street there, it’s the perfect way to bridge the gap. It’s how I got here; it’s how Christopher (Bell) got here. Yeley. Leffler. Jeff Gordon. And there’s another handful of guys that I’m missing off the top of my head who have run sprint cars, and winning over there is what got us here. So we need to show those fans who they are and who the potential future stars (of NASCAR) are.”
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Talk about your relationship with Texas track president Eddie Gossage ...
Stewart: “We’ve always got along really well and he’s been a good friend to me. Since I’ve been in the racetrack (ownership) business now, he’s the guy I call when I have a really hard question and that I trust the most.”
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Your bobblehead was recently inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Where does that rank for you?
Stewart: “Not very high on my list. Yeah, the NASCAR Hall of Fame now has my overly-large head in it. So it’s in a good spot because it’s not in my house.”
How did your Fandango event for fans go at Texas?
Stewart: “I thought all of it was funny. We had Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and myself. Kyle Petty was the emcee. It’s going to be funny with Kyle Petty up there, and when Eddie Gossage gets up there. When you get Bowyer up there, it’s going to be out of control. And then Harvick and I are the ones who just keep egging Clint on and getting him in trouble. And Joey was pretty funny, too.
“So the whole group of us had a really good time. I think we realized it was going overboard when Gossage brought out the office chairs with the fire extinguishers hooked to them, and we started have fire-extinguisher office-car races. So that was a real bad idea.”
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Did you know the media was banned from that event this year?
Stewart (laughing): “They banned the media? Really? I’ve been trying to ban you guys from events for a long time and never figured out how to do it. I guess I’ll have to call Gossage and figure out how it happened.”
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How did it feel to recently win again on dirt in your sprint car?
Stewart: “Ever since I got back in the car, it’s not felt like what I remember sprint cars feeling like. And it’s not that I forgot the feel. I don’t know what changed. I don’t know if the tires changed or what. But something in the last 2 1/2 years has changed in the cars.
"What setups we ran 2 ½ years ago weren’t even remotely close. So it took us seven nights to kind of get in the ballpark, and Night 8 it was good enough to get it done.”
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How do you feel about the chemistry Clint Bowyer is developing with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz in your old No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing car?
Stewart: “Well, Clint and I are a lot alike. Except for his attention span is fractional compared to mine. But you guys all know that. … Buga is the right guy for him. I told (Bugarewicz) when I was driving that if I start to get over-emotional, just let me vent and then tell me to get focused again and drive the car. That’s what he’s doing with Clint, too, and it seems to be working for them as well.”
How are things looking for this summer's Camping World Truck Series race at your Eldora Speedway dirt track?
Stewart: “The most exciting thing is that my brand-new grader – well not ‘brand new,’ but new to us – has arrived. So I’ve got a shiny, new toy to get on when I get over there.
“That’s the great thing about having Roger Slack run Eldora. I don’t have to worry about anything. He’s got it all under control, and that gives me the ability to get excited about a new grader. And we’ve got a new video board, too. It’s much larger than the one we had before. It’s not quite ‘Big Hoss-big’ but it’s Big Hoss when it comes to short tracks. So it’s a good-sized video board.
“So Roger finds ways to make it bigger and better each year and make improvements, so we’re excited about it.”
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What makes Christopher Bell such a driving talent on dirt?
Stewart: “The kid is awesome. That’s why we want him in our race car (on dirt). I mean, look at him: He’s cute, he’s got nice hair – and the kid can flat-our wheel a race car. That’s the best thing about him.
“He’s fun to work with. I like being around him. Even on a night when it doesn’t go perfectly, he’s still smiling and he’s still excited about the fact that he got to go run for you. So it means a lot to us to have a guy like him.
“If you went to the Chili Bowl and watched him, you understand. You’ve got 370 of the best dirt-track racers in the country, and he didn’t just barely win it, he won it big. Those kinds of wins are what define you as a driver – and when you watch that, you realize why he’s special.”
Would you be interested in owning another track?
Stewart: “No. I’ve got all the headaches I need right now. I’ve got just enough of the right people in place to balance the headaches that I have.
“The hard part, and it’s kind of a funny thing that we’ve gone through for about the last five years … but no matter where we’re at in the country, someone always comes up to me and says, ‘I hear you’re going to buy our local dirt track.’ I don’t know where the rumors start – but according to those people who start the rumors, I own or am about to own about 120 tracks across the country.
“People don’t realize it takes a lot to run any dirt track anywhere in the country. It takes a lot of work and a lot of resources and a lot of people to do it. For somebody like me, I have to have somebody like Roger Slack who has been in the business a long time and can single-handedly do it on his own without me being there. I’m the one who shows up and disrupts the day-to-day system. … We have three of them – one in Kentucky, one in Illinois and one in Ohio. It’s a lot to manage what we’ve got already.”