Two-Time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart Serving as Fiesta Bowl Grand Marshal SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., (Jan. 4, 2009) -- No passing. That was the only rule Tony Stewart had to abide by in Saturday's 38th Annual Fort McDowell Fiesta...
Two-Time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart Serving as Fiesta Bowl Grand Marshal
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., (Jan. 4, 2009) -- No passing. That was the only rule Tony Stewart had to abide by in Saturday's 38th Annual Fort McDowell Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. Thankfully, the two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion sat far enough away from the steering wheel of a Chevrolet Corvette that he couldn't break the one rule just days into the New Year.
Instead, the driver better known as "Smoke" sat atop the trunk of the Corvette convertible waving to the crowd along the 1.9-mile parade route, dutifully fulfilling one of his primary duties as grand marshal of this year's Fiesta Bowl, which features a Monday night match-up between the Big Ten's Ohio State and the Big 12's University of Texas.
"That was like driver introductions at Indianapolis times 10," said Stewart, referring to the ritual of riding in the back of a pickup truck around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway before racing 42 other drivers for 400 miles. "This is a huge event and I'm just honored to be a part of it. It's pretty cool to sort of venture outside our box a little bit and take in a game of this magnitude. With the racing season being what it is, getting away to see a college football game is kind of tough. When the Fiesta Bowl Committee called and asked if I was interested in being their grand marshal, I said, 'As long as I get a ticket and a field pass to the game, I'm in."
Stewart got that and then some. Announcing his presence in the parade were two brightly painted red No. 14 Chevrolet Impalas. One was emblazoned with Office Depot and the other with Old Spice, his co-primary sponsors for the 2009 racing season -- Stewart's first as a driver/owner with Stewart-Haas Racing, his new home after spending over a decade with Joe Gibbs Racing.
"Being grand marshal was also a great opportunity for our race team," said Stewart, who is already an accomplished team owner in the U.S. Auto Club (USAC) and the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, where his teams have won nine championships -- seven in USAC and two in the World of Outlaws. "It's not everyday that we're able to crossover into other sporting events, so to be able to do that and bring my team and sponsors a little extra exposure was a no-brainer. Plus, we're going to be back out here in April at Phoenix International Raceway, and hopefully the time we spend here in January brings a few more people out to the race track in April."
Stewart's ties to the Phoenix area are strong. The 1-mile oval in Avondale is where Stewart's racing career truly began.
It was February 1993 at Phoenix International Raceway's famed Copper World Classic where the season-opening race for the USAC Silver Crown division was held. In Stewart's first ever race at the desert mile, he qualified second to Davey Hamilton -- a former IRL IndyCar Series veteran -- and led 31 of the 50 laps before finishing second to Mike Bliss -- the 2003 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion. The $3,500 payday for his second-place effort made eight-hour days at $5 an hour at the Columbus, Ind., machine shop where Stewart worked seem unnecessary. Packing the rest of the 1993 season with Silver Crown, Sprint and Midget races across the nation, Stewart's quick ascent up the racing ladder began. In all, Stewart has scored 11 driving championships in 29 years of racing, a tally that includes four USAC titles, one IndyCar Series crown and his two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships.
"Anytime I come out to the Phoenix area, it's like a homecoming," Stewart said. "It's a place where I feel comfortable. I started racing there in '93 when I ran a Silver Crown car, and since then I've run USAC Midgets, Indy cars, Supermodifieds, NASCAR Nationwide Series cars, and of course, Sprint Cup cars. So, I've logged a bunch of laps there. To think that it all kind of started at Phoenix, I guess you could say it's the place where my career came full-circle."
Serving as grand marshal of the Fiesta Bowl has helped solidify that feeling, for the Texas/Ohio State pairing provides Stewart the opportunity to further enhance his relationships with his new partners at Stewart-Haas Racing.
"I own a race track in Ohio, but a few of our sponsors have some really strong ties to Texas," said Stewart, who owns Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. "So, I'm going to take a page from the Fiesta Bowl's playbook and say that I just want to see a really good game."