LAKEVILLE — Current NASCAR Cup series champ Tony Stewart once again met with his fans to raise funds for Newton Park. All proceeds from the meet-and-greet and question-and-answer session Wednesday night with the NASCAR star will go to the park, and for the Little Hoosier 100, which will be held August 10 and 11 at Newton Park in Lakeville.
Bob and Joyce Newton, founders of Newton Park, have been close friends with Stewart since his early racing days, he said, and it’s people like the Newtons to whom Stewart attributes his successful racing career. “I’m surrounded by a bunch of great people like Bob and Joyce, and Irish (Saunders),” Stewart said. “It’s been a lot of luck and timing.”
He said there are more than one million racers from go karts to stock cars and everything between, yet there are only 43 drivers in NASCAR’s top circuit. “I’ll never forget where I came from,” Stewart said, adding that for as long as the Newtons ask him to keep coming back, he will do so. “The tires they’ve built here in Indiana go all across the country, and people like Bob and Joyce are important to the sport. Bob is one of those guys that put his arm around me when I was young and believed in me as a kid. He’s always had a lot great words of advice because he’s seen it and he’s done it and I’ve never forgotten that.”
Stewart was quizzed by a handful of fans on topics ranging from his dirt track racing, to fellow NASCAR drivers, from running the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 both in the same day, to how he got the nickname “Smoke.” He also talked about his teammate and driver for Stewart-Haas, Ryan Newman.
“We race 38 Cup races, and last year I raced 25 Sprint car (dirt) races,” he said. “I’m a glutton for punishment, this year, we’re racing 50.” Stewart attributes his driving style and ability to racing other cars as often as he can.
Stewart, who recently turned 41, said he has many good friends in the top circuit, including Newman, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Eric Armirolla. “We’re at the track 120 days a year, so when it comes to the race track,” he said, “we all try to get along. Nobody wants to worry about wrecking guys. We may not all get along, but we respect each other.”
The self-proclaimed animal lover, who takes his German Shepherd along with him everywhere he goes, said he is happy to have ex-crew chief from his days at Joe Gibbs Racing as his current competition director at Stewart-Haas. “His passion is the same as mine,” Stewart said. “It’s like having my big brother back with me.”
He told those concerned with Newman’s future that as long as sponsorship is secured, Newman will be back with the Stewart-Haas team next season. “We have every intention of having Ryan back,” Stewart said. Newman, who has been sponsored by the Army and National Guard, may lose those funds if Congress passes a law forbidding the sponsorship. “They don’t fully understand,” Stewart said, “it’s $80 million to sponsor a car, which is 26 cents a year for every American.”
Stewart went to describe the camaraderie between the two. “I have more fun with Ryan as a teammate than should be allowed. But I hate fishing with him, though, because he’s way better than I am.” He added that Krissie, Ryan’s wife, has been in charge of the construction to Stewart’s Indiana home, which is nearing completion after nearly two years.
Stewart, who will be racing on Plymouth Speedway’s Bullring dirt track June 16, said he’s looking forward to coming back to the area. “It’s going to be neat. You don’t see many tracks that have pavement and dirt, so to see what they’ve done there is really impressive.”