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Tony Stewart’s Relationship With His Father Is A Winner

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 21 2009
Tony Stewart and his father, Nelson Stewart, have been brought closer together by racing.

Tony Stewart and his father, Nelson Stewart, have been brought closer together by racing.

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Tony Stewart isn’t exactly the kind of guy who feels comfortable hugging other men or telling them he loves them, even when it comes to his own father, Nelson Stewart.

But the two-time Cup champion, in his own special way, does show his appreciation for his father’s company and for all the sacrifices he made to get him a start in professional racing.

The evidence of that is in the fact that with all Tony Stewart has on his plate this year, with becoming a driver/owner and reorganizing Stewart Haas Racing into a championship-contending, two-car team, he’s taken time to make his father feel comfortable and appreciated in the No. 14 pits.

After being only an occasional visitor in the Sprint Cup garage in recent years, this year finds Nelson Stewart on hand for all but two races so far.

“That in itself says a lot,” Nelson said. “Plus the fact that he’s given me heck for the two races I’ve missed.”

When he’s not at the track, he’s helping his son out with hauling personal vehicles and other chores.

“I do the jobs nobody else wants to do,” Nelson Stewart said.

Tony Stewart’s feelings for his dad do become more evident when the roles are reversed, and Nelson is doing the driving while his son watches. Several years ago, Nelson Stewart entered a USAC Silver Crown race at O’Reilly Raceway Park near Indianapolis. Before the race, Tony paced like a nervous hen, asking his father to reconsider his decision to drive the speedy open-wheeled cars. It didn’t make a difference; Nelson raced anyway.

Tony did willingly let his father race a three-quarter Midget recently. “But he took it away from me,” Nelson said, adding that he obtained another car and kept on driving.

His son’s concern for his father’s safety is one of the few ways that Stewart goes somewhat public with his appreciation for his father, and Nelson Stewart understands that.

“He’s a lot like my dad and me and the men in the Stewart family,” Nelson said. “We have a hard time showing appreciation. We’re not very good at getting it out, but we all have our ways of letting people know.”

For Nelson Stewart, the special times with his son are wrapped around short-track racing, as they have been for most of their lives.

These days, with Tony’s busy schedule, his private time with dad is the annual mid-winter trip to Ft. Wayne, Ind., for the indoor midget “Rumble”, a race that Stewart wins more often than not.

“It’s just the two of us in the truck going up there and coming back,” Nelson said. “It’s good quality time.”

It’s much like years ago, when Nelson Stewart sacrificed financially to get his son a racing start.

“We did all that [financial] stuff, maxed out the credit cards,” he said. “I didn’t deprive the family, but I went out on a limb more than I should have.”

But considered the risks and his son’s early ability, and decided it was a chance worth taking.

That was never more evident than a national go-kart race at Oskaloosa, Iowa, early in Stewart’s career, when he beat the defending champion Mike Berg, and began to really capture people’s attention.

“He did it the first time out [in that event],” Nelson said. “That’s when I first knew that there was really something there.”

Nelson was able to get his son up to a point, and from there, others took over and allowed him to drive equipment that let him showcase his skills on faster, higher profile circuits. Dad’s major role had ended. He knew that and accepted it.

“It got to a point pretty quick that I couldn’t keep up,” he said. “But he got with good people.”

Over the years, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses between Nelson and Tony Stewart.

“We’ve had our moments,” Nelson acknowledged. But after all these years, it all worked out.

He’s with his son in Sonoma, Calif., for Father’s Day, an appropriate place for a racing son and father to spend that special day.

Nelson Stewart’s risks have been greatly rewarded. The son enters the Toyota/Save Mart 350 as the Sprint Cup points leader and the father is there to share it with him.

 “All I knew back then was that if he got the right breaks, as good as he was, it would happen,” Nelson said. “I don’t regret one moment, one dime I spent or one mile I drove.”

 – Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 21 2009
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