Tony Stewart Shows No Signs of Slowing Down
Writer / Melissa Gibson
He retired from NASCAR in 2016, but Tony Stewart hasn’t slowed down.
What began with racing go-karts 44 years ago led to a record-breaking career, with 12 driving championships including four United States Auto Club wins, a win in the IndyCar Series and three wins in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Stewart is the first and only driver to win championships in stock cars, Indy cars, and open-wheel midget, sprint and Silver Crown cars. His three NASCAR Cup Series wins make him one of 16 drivers who have taken home multiple titles.
“I’m in a unique scenario compared to most because of all the different types of cars I’ve driven,” Stewart says. “Literally, when we’re in town it doesn’t matter who I meet – if they’re talking about motorsports, I know at least a little bit about what they’re talking about.”
When asked about his shining moment, what memory sticks out the most, Stewart struggles with an answer.
“There are go-kart races that meant everything to me to this day, and I’ve ran everything in between,” Stewart says. “It’s almost easier to pick a moment in every type of car I’ve driven. When I think about it though, the trophy’s meant a lot, but the big picture is all the cool people I’ve met along the way.”
In 2000, Stewart formed Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) and moved into a state-of-the-art, 25,000-square-foot facility in Brownsburg. Since its inaugural season, TSR has won 27 owner championships.
In 2004, Stewart purchased Eldora Speedway, a half-mile dirt oval, hosting 2013’s first-ever stop by the NASCAR Truck Series.
He’s hands-on every step of the way, and finds himself enjoying Brownsburg in a way many haven’t experienced.
“I’m good friends with Bill Simpson of Simpson Performance Products, and he worked with Brownsburg to get racers off of Gasoline Alley in Speedway and make the move to Brownsburg,” Stewart says. “I love it out there. On our street, we’ve got six different organizations with [National Hot Rod Association] teams. There’s sports car programs, parts builders and more on one street. A lot of times we can walk a couple of blocks and pick up parts. It’s great for your business and makes it easier to operate. Brownsburg has really embraced our community.”
In 2021, Stewart announced he would tackle the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) world with two full-time entries. The team includes Matt Hagan in Funny Car and Stewart’s wife, Leah Pruett, in Top Fuel.
While Stewart had some experience with the NHRA, it wasn’t until he began dating Pruett that he truly took notice.
“I started going to her events and I enjoyed learning about it,” he says. “I always tell people that all of the other forms of motorsports are related, but NHRA are kind of off on their own island.”
Stewart says the differences are so vast, he found it rejuvenating and exciting. “It was different than what I was used to, and a totally different atmosphere,” he says.
For the man who raced the Indianapolis 500, jumped on a plane, and raced the Charlotte Coca-Cola 600 in the same day (Stewart’s 2001 attempt stands as the best combined result, finishing sixth at Indianapolis and third at Charlotte), watching NHRA drivers go home five minutes into the event was a drastic change.
“You can be the first pair of cars and drivers to go out, and in five minutes pack up your stuff and go home,” Stewart says. “In drag racing, you can be out on the first run and your weekend is over. In Daytona or Indy 500, this is going to be a three-and-a-half-hour race.”
With only one NHRA season under his belt, the process has been a whirlwind, but the team is beginning to catch their stride.
“Two years ago, Leah and I got married, we spent two days on a honeymoon, and then headed to Brownsburg to live in a motor home for 58 days at the shop,” Stewart says. “We bought the Funny Car from Don Schumacher and had enough pieces to build Leah’s car from scratch. There were a lot of growing pains that first year, a lot of learning and growing, but we were in the playoffs till the end.”
Stewart was impressed by the commitment and dedication from his team.
“With only 58 days to prepare, there were a lot of long hours,” he says. “The team was there from 7 a.m. till after midnight most of those 58 days. The wives and girlfriends were bringing dinner to the guys and the community just rallied.”
Ultimately, Hagan finished in third place and Pruett finished 11th in the 2022 season, and they are gearing up to do it again.
“It’s remarkable how dedicated the fans are,” Stewart says. “They are so dedicated to what we do and they’re following our race teams. There’s been a lot of crossover. I’ve seen fans that were with me in NASCAR and are now watching NHRA races.”
You may think he’s watching from the sidelines in the NHRA, but don’t count Stewart out of the driver’s seat just yet.
He’s continued to compete in the SRX series and has been running sprint cars for the past two years. In addition, Stewart made his debut driving for McPhillips Racing in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series in Las Vegas last October.
He won the first two elimination rounds in his Mobil 1 Top Alcohol Dragster, qualifying as the two seed, ultimately finishing second by two ten-thousandths of a second – just one inch short of the win.
The debut proved to be so exhilarating that Stewart announced in mid-February that he would be joining McPhillips Racing for the entire 2023 NHRA season.
He’s been a lifelong member of the motorsports family and doesn’t expect to leave any time soon.
“I’m proud to be a part of it,” he says. “I’ve been involved in motorsports since I was 8 and I think I’ll be here till the day I die. This community is a huge family and it’s great to work among your peers, with our shops next door to each other. We race hard, but in the end we all get along. I’m proud of our roots in Brownsburg and what the town has done for the motorsports industry.”
In 2003, Stewart formed the Tony Stewart Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, raising funds to support chronically ill and physically disabled children, animals that are endangered or at risk, and drivers injured in the sport of motor racing. To date, they’ve donated over $7 million to organizations serving these missions.
Visit tonystewart.com to follow TSR and their entire racing schedule.