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Indy Not Just Another Race, Place For Stewart

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 24 2009

Tony Stewart has a lot of respect for The Brickyard. (NASCAR photo)

Tony Stewart has a lot of respect for The Brickyard. (NASCAR photo)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is special to many drivers, which is natural given the track’s heritage. But few are identified with it like Tony Stewart.

Stewart grew up just down the road from the speedway, in Columbus and Rushville. And racing at Indy was a big part of his life, long before he ever turned his first lap there.

“Growing up in Indiana and every year watching the Indy 500 and the whole month of May leading up to it, a race at the Brickyard is more than just a regular points race,” he said. “It’s always been a big race to all of the Cup drivers, but then when you grow up in Indiana, it just makes it that much more important.”

His two wins there, in 2005 and 2007, were moments to treasure, for Stewart and those who know him. After one win, he talked about driving by the suites at full speed and seeing his dad, Nelson Stewart, hanging over the railing cheering him on.

And it was heartwarming to see Stewart and his family celebrating victory on the yard of bricks at the finish line.

For many reasons, Stewart appreciates Indy as much or more than any driver.

He’s often recalled pedaling home from school on his bicycle, as fast as his legs would pump, so he could catch Indy coverage on TV at home.

“I rode my bike to school every day, and your parents beat it in your head to stop at stop signs and wait for green lights before you cross the road,” he said. “Well, I played ‘Frogger’ going home, basically with a bicycle, trying to get home as fast as I could, trying to get the TV on. “That’s my biggest memory is just growing up and watching, loving the opportunity to get home. I didn’t care how much homework I had. It was the last priority when the month of May was going on and whatever coverage was on TV. You were just glued to it.

“There wasn’t any one particular moment. It’s just been something that’s been a huge, huge part of my life.”

A real indicator of Stewart’s appreciation of Indianapolis Motor Speedway came out during an interview in the track’s infield several years ago.

He described the track as much more than a race course. He said it was a sacred, hallowed place.

“The last time I did double duty [driving in both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte on the same day] I was staying in my motor home in the infield,” Stewart said. “I got back from an event at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’m the only one walking around there.

“You’re standing there and you swear you can hear people and hear race cars going around there. To me, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just like a living, breathing organism.”

And with his history there, including a pole-winning run in the Indy 500, he’s become a part of the track’s magic. On Sunday he tries to conquer it as both driver and owner. If one had to guess, it’s likely that the spirits of the Brickyard, if they really exist, will be pulling for him.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 24 2009
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