Tony Stewart is a born and raised Hoosier race car driver. He currently drives the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Stewart was born May 20, 1971 in Columbus, Indiana, and attended Columbus North High School. He began driving go-karts at the age of seven at a track in Westport. It was obvious, even at such an early age, that Tony had a special knack for driving fast. By the age of eight he was already a champion, winning a junior series held at the Columbus Fairgrounds, and his success earned him many admirers in the racing community.
One person who took a particular interest in Stewart was fellow driver and Greenfield, Indiana native Mark Dismore. Dismore sponsored Stewart’s cars early in his career, and in 1991 helped the “Rushville Rocket” land a ride in the United States Auto Club (USAC), which featured higher-horsepower open-wheel cars.
He was named USAC Rookie of the Year in his debut season, and in 1993 finished fifth in the points standings after winning the prestigious Hut Hundred at the Terre Haute Action Track in Terre Haute, Indiana. The next season he captured his first USAC crown by winning the National Midget division. USAC is divided into three separate divisions — sprint cars, midgets, and silver crown — and in 1995 Stewart became the first driver ever to capture the USAC “Triple Crown” by finishing first in each division.
His utter domination of the USAC competition earned him a promotion to the newly formed Indy Racing League, now known as the IZOD IndyCar Series. Despite winning Rookie of the Year honors and starting on the pole for the 1996 Indianapolis 500, Stewart’s first season was marred by numerous blown engines, which helped earn him the nickname “Smoke.”
The 1997 season was much more to Stewart’s liking, as picked up his first IndyCar victory, and captured the IRL championship. He led 64 Laps in 1997 Indy 500, but faded down the stretch, coming home with a 5th place finish. The next season he finished third in the points standings, but came in dead last at Indy after experiencing a blown engine on lap 22, one lap after he passed Robbie Buhl for the lead. After the race a dejected and angered Stewart told an ABC reporter on live television that “this has been my number one goal (Indy), and every year I get s*** on.”
Stewart made the lucrative leap from the IRL to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 1999, hooking up Joe Gibbs Racing. He qualified 2nd in his first NASCAR event race, and ended up setting a series record for victories by a rookie with three.
Despite participating full-time in NASCAR, he did run in the 1999 Indy 500, competing in both the 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Stewart finished 9th at Indianapolis, and then boarded a helicopter and arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina in time to start the 600. He finished fourth, and completed 1,090 of the full 1,100 miles. He did “The Double” again in 2001, finishing sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte and completing all 1,100 miles, but has not attempted it since.
Stewart won the NASCAR points championship in 2002, and again in 2005, making him the first and only driver to have won championships in stock cars, Indy cars, and open-wheel Midget, Sprint, and Silver Crown cars. In 2009, Tony bought a 50 percent stake in Haas CNC Racing, officially ending his ties with Joe Gibbs, the car number 20, and sponsor The Home Depot.
In his 11-year NASCAR career, Stewart’s registered 37 wins, 10 poles, and 232 top ten finishes. He’s won four times at the famed Daytona Motor Speedway, and won back-to-back Brickyard 400‘s held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana.
When he’s not winning races and doing burnouts, Stewart, a favorite among Indianapolis sports fans, still lives in Columbus in the house he grew up in.
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