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‘Smoke’ Now Permitted In NASCAR Hall Of Fame

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 1 2020
Tony Stewart, aka ‘Smoke’, slips into his NASCAR Hall of Fame jacket with an assist from NASCAR head man Jim France. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rarely does one hear of someone being inducted into two halls of fame on successive nights, but then not everyone is Tony Stewart.

From age 9 when Stewart won his first championship in a Go-Kart until now, the Columbus, Ind., native’s career has been marked by success in every form of racing in which he has competed. In addition to Karts, his titles have come in Midgets, Sprint Cars, IndyCar and NASCAR.

NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton describes Stewart as a “true character.” 

“That takes in a lot of different personalities, which Tony has, but I mean it in a good, strong way,” Helton said. “He brings a huge amount of passion, almost to the point where I think the passion creates the character of Tony Stewart. You know where he stands. He doesn’t hide anything. He made us all better (because of his participation in NASCAR.)”

It’s that passion that resulted in Stewart being named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in the first year he was eligible. The 48-year-old Stewart entered the NASCAR Hall of Fame Friday night with Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Buddy Baker and Waddell Wilson. On Saturday night, he joins John Force, Janet Guthrie and Kirk Shelmerdine in the NMPA Hall of Fame. 

The 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame class includes, Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and Waddell Wilson. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

However, Stewart admitted Friday during his induction speech that had it not been for Helton and NASCAR executive Jim Hunter he probably wouldn’t have been standing on the Crown Ballroom stage.

“I probably would have been kicked out of NASCAR by my sophomore season (without them),” Stewart said.

 Helton admitted he had “a lot of tough conversations with Tony along the way, but from those difficult conversations I really appreciate the relationship he and I created, personally.” 

“I have tremendous respect for him,” Helton continued. “Even though we would start off disagreeing about something we had enough respect for each other to find a resolution.

“Tony may be short fused, but he’s an incredible individual. He’s got a big heart. There was an incident at a track where he admitted he got mad and he damaged some equipment that belonged to this person and so we had to have the conversation. He walked out of the hauler blaming the other person, but within about a half hour  that other person and Tony got together and Tony made good everything that he might have done, apologized and those two individuals are good friends today. If he agrees with maybe being a little bit in the wrong, he’s going to fix it. He’s a good student.”

Gibbs said he always “hustled” to the team’s transporter after Stewart experienced a bad race “because several times he tore up the inside of our hauler.”

“He also paid for it several times,” Gibbs noted. 

Stewart said he learned numerous life lessons as well as business, including how to operate a race team, from Gibbs. 

“If I hadn’t driven for this guy (Gibbs), I wouldn’t have a lot of the entities that I have and have the confidence to do so,” Stewart said during his post-induction press conference. 

Helton noted Stewart had nicknames for everyone and his was “Papa Bear.”

“I cherish that because I’ve heard some of the names he uses for other people so I’ll take Papa Bear and run with it,” Helton said with a laugh. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 1 2020
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