IROC ROOKIE TONY STEWART READY FOR CHALLENGE DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 12, 1998 -- Jay Signore, the president of the International Race of Champions, has seen the driving talent shown by Tony Stewart in other drivers before him. ...
IROC ROOKIE TONY STEWART READY FOR CHALLENGE
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 12, 1998 -- Jay Signore, the president of the International Race of Champions, has seen the driving talent shown by Tony Stewart in other drivers before him.
``It appears like he's another A.J. Foyt,'' said Signore, without blinking an eye. ``He's got a nice relaxed way about him. When he talks about the cars, he's got a nice feel for it. He's what we call a `seat-of-the-pants driver.' ''
This breed of driver is rare. It's the kind of race car driver that can wheel any sort of car.
Signore isn't the only one who knows the depths of Stewart's talents. After Stewart won the IRL's season-opening Indy 200 last month at Walt Disney World Speedway, his mentor, Mark Dismore, said, ``Tony is God's gift to the steering wheel.''
Foyt, now an IRL team owner, is a good example of this `seat-of-the-pants' type jockey. He not only won four Indianapolis 500s, but captured the Daytona 500 -- stock car's top race -- and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, considered one of the biggest sports car events in the world.
Stewart, just 26 years old, is already the defending Indy Racing League champion. And he's branching his racing career by driving a NASCAR Busch Grand National stock car owned by Joe Gibbs, a former coach of the Washington Redskins.
Foyt was solid in IROC competition, and everybody believes Stewart will excel in this four-race, all-star tour that starts Friday at Daytona International Speedway. He's already shown his luck. The Rushville, Ind., driver pulled the pole position in a draw for the Daytona race.
Stewart won't be the only IRL representative in IROC. Arie Luyendyk, the 1997 Indianapolis 500 winner, will also run the pack. In typical Stewart fashion, the young champion said he was just honored to be invited to IROC for the first time.
``To be included with Arie Luyendyk in this series is great,'' said Stewart. ``Arie has made a name for himself in Indy-style cars, and to come as IRL champion into this series makes me feel proud of what I've accomplished with the IRL.''
Stewart, who drives for Team Menard, already has one eye on IROC's historic first stop at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 31. The IROC season finale will be staged the day before the Brickyard 400. In four short years, the Brickyard 400 has become a NASCAR Winston Cup Series major and included in Winston's ``No Bull 5'' bonus program. Stewart was considered for an IROC invitation following his record-breaking season in 1995, Signore said. During that year, Stewart won USAC's Triple Crown -- the national midget, sprint and Silver Crown championships. Stewart didn't get the call in '96, but Signore was so impressed with the young driver that he let Stewart take test laps in a IROC car.
``We wanted him to get a little more high-speed asphalt experience,'' said Signore. ``He tested our cars in those early days, got some laps in them. Looking at him today, he's going to be a real threat. He's going to be a good guy in our series.''
When IROC gets to Indy, all 12 drivers will be on equal ground. Why?
``Because nobody's ever raced an IROC car at Indy,'' said Signore. ``Nobody but Dave Marcis, Jim Sauter and Dick Trickle.''
Those are IROC's test and setup drivers. They try to get the IROC cars as equal as possible before an event. In April 1992, IROC conducted a tire test at Indy with Marcis, Sauter and Trickle doing the driving chores.
Stewart has competed in the last two Indy 500s, but has his sights on the Indy IROC. ``Oh yeah,'' he said with a smile. ``To have the opportunity to run Indianapolis in an Indy-style car was a very special feeling and a dream come true for us. To be able to go there in a stock car for the first time and be able to run, it's going to be interesting. We're really excited about that opportunity. And we're excited to be with IROC, period.''