On Wednesday, Tony Stewart announced to race fans around the world that 2016 would be his last behind the wheel of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car. Many could see the handwriting on the wall, many more hoped this day would never come.
After the season finale in Homestead,14 months from now, NASCAR will lose one of the most talented drivers ever to strap into a racing machine of any kind. Few drivers possess the ability, drive, tenacity, desire, passion, enthusiasm, and pure heart as Stewart does. His accomplishments are many, most notably, his three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships.
Stewart has won at every level of motorsports including a World Karting Association Championship in 1987, and in 1995 became the first driver ever to win the USAC Triple Crown. In 1997, Tony won the IRL championship before turning his attention towards a Hall of Fame career in NASCAR. Stewart has competed on “hometown” tracks and super speedways across North America ; everywhere, every weekend, giving 100%. There may be no one more charismatic than Tony Stewart!
Chances are, you already know this about Tony. You already know that he is one of our sport’s biggest stars, and you already know he is one of the greatest drivers.
Now, let us share with you a story about Tony Stewart, the person, that you might not know. This is a story not about his talents on the track but rather his heart off it. In fact, without this story, we wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be reading this story on RacingAwareness.com. We take you back to August 2007, when we were asked to help a boy, and now our long time friend, Tristan, fulfill his dream.
Tristan, age 10 at the time, had been living with an illness that was potentially life threatening. His family wanted to provide him with the opportunity to meet his hero, Tony Stewart.
It was Friday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway, Tristan and his family were invited to the track, and the Gordon Food Service hospitality suite that we managed, with little detail about what they were going to experience. At the same time, Tony was having a typical Friday of practice and qualifying. As the afternoon and the on track activities came to a close, the opportunity to bring Tristan and Tony together finally came. Still unbeknownst to anyone of what was next, Tristan was swept off on a golf cart for a personal whirlwind tour of the facility, while his family was escorted to the driver/owner motorcoach lot where the meeting was scheduled to occur. The anticipation for us was overwhelming as the meeting time approached.
Tristan arrived on time, just out front of Stewart’s personal RV, but Tony wasn’t ready, so the meeting time came and passed. The group waited patiently as other drivers passed by noticing the large group. Each driver inquired if we needed assistance which quickly turned into a warm greeting, pictures and autographs for Tristan. Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, were great to meet but the hope of meeting Tony overshadowed the moment.
After watching Tony’s coach from afar and the flurry of activity that surrounded it, we weren’t sure if the meeting was meant to be, but then, as planned, Tony emerged. He approached the group, still in his fire suit and shoes and with an outstretched hand, he said ‘you must be Tristan’. The waiting and any anxiety faded instantly as Tony invited Tristan to his home away from home where he proceeded to spend the next hour with Tristan and his dad like they were long time friends. Their time together was genuinely magical. Tony also provided Tristian with a bag full of memorabilia including a 1/24th scale version of his #20, Home Depot Chevrolet.
To conclude the visit, Tony invited Tristan and his dad to Victory Lane if he won on Sunday. For those that understand the logistics of traveling to and from MIS, getting fans to Victory Lane and that the August 2007 NASCAR Sprint Cup event at MIS wasn’t held until Tuesday due to rain, you will appreciate what happened next.
After Tristan’s visit with Tony on Friday, he and his family returned on Sunday as they had planned, however, Sunday’s event was postponed due to rain. Not expecting to see Tristan again, we were very surprised when he showed up in the suite on Monday. During that day, the rain continued and many of the race teams were exploring the suite area simply to stay dry. Then, they came across Tristan. One by one, Tristan was visited by race teams, drivers and provided tours of haulers and pit road. Watching Tristan experience this was overwhelming. But again, Mother Nature would have the final say and would postpone the event to Tuesday. As difficult as it was for them, Tristan and dad again returned on Tuesday. Tony’s chances of putting the #20 in Victory Lane at MIS were really good that year and Tristan was determined to not only see it but share it with his hero.
The green flag finally flew on Tuesday morning, but the event was yet again delayed, this time by fog! With the red flag hanging from the starter’s stand, we all sat and waited. During the delay, the media was in search of creative stories to fill the extended broadcast. During this time we were surprised to be visited by Tristan’s new crew member friends who came up from Pit Road but also an ESPN TV crew! Yes, Tristan was even the feature of a Mike Massaro interview. He was the focus of everyone. Only a Stewart win would have made the weekend more amazing! The wish of an ill child had been fulfilled by Tony and the supporting NASCAR cast!
Tony didn’t win that day, at least not on the track. But as a person, he showed many what type of individual he is. He handed a child he didn’t know, a memory that will last a lifetime; he handed us an idea. The idea became, RacingAwareness.com supporting Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Tony has meant a lot to this RA team. In fact there might not have been an RA team if it wasn’t for the time between a child and his hero. We are not sure that Tony even knows all of this, and even if he did know, he would more than likely deflect the credit away from him, that’s just his style.
We asked Tony, ‘with such an amazing appreciation for kids, why we don’t see this side of you played out on TV’? Stewart replied something to the effect of, it’s not about TV, or what the fans see, it’s about the kids and that’s all that matters. We couldn’t agree more.
Thank you Tony Stewart for everything you have delivered, both on and off the track! We hope you enjoy everything that the future has in store, and if returning to the Berlin Raceway should ever be in those plans, we have a car waiting.