NEW YORK (Dec. 3, 2002) - NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, along with crew chief Greg Zipadelli, paid tribute Tuesday to some of America's real heroes - the firefighters and police officers of New York City.
Stewart and Zipadelli spent the majority of the afternoon visiting with some of the heroes who were crucial during the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City. Their first visit was to the Midtown Precinct of the New York Police Department (NYPD), located on 54th Street.
They met with a group of police officers, inspectors and detectives and exchanged gifts. Stewart and Zipadelli passed out autographed championship and Home Depot hats while they received NYPD apparel in return.
"I've sat in traffic plenty of times and got so mad at police officers when I get pulled over, but they get such a bad rap without people not really knowing them as a person," Stewart said. "I can relate to them because if you spend a half-hour with me I'm not that bad of a person either. They worked so hard to keep us safe and sometimes they are not really appreciated enough. It was great to go into a casual setting like we did, and it made me very proud just to hang out with them."
Stewart and Zipadelli then had a somber visit to the Engine 22/Ladder 13 Company of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), located on 85th Street. The duo met roughly 15 firefighters on duty, including one hero who was the lone survivor of his company's fire truck during the Sept. 11, 2001 rescue efforts. They also were touched by the wall memorial to the fallen heroes that was located in the firehouse.
"When I walked into the fire station, I was not knowing what to expect. I did not know what type of impact we make on these guys, but they didn't know what kind of impact they made on me and Zippy," Stewart said. "To see all the memorials and tributes... that was a powerful scene for me. They got called out to a fire at the end of our visit and then you really start thinking of all they do for others and it is a really overwhelming feeling."
Stewart and Zipadelli also exchanged hats and shirts with the firefighters during the visit and got the rare opportunity to slide down the fireman's pole. Stewart also earned a special treat as the firefighters allowed him to slide down the pole, start up the fire truck and turn on the lights.
Stewart began his day with a guest appearance on NBC's Today, one of the premier national morning shows. He also made appearances on the Best Damn Sports Show Period (FOX) and Interview with Greta Van Susteren (CNN), both of which were scheduled to air this evening.
* What's on tap tomorrow for the champion... Stewart is scheduled for a busy day with various media throughout the day. Among the key appearances will be as the guest of honor for a luncheon at the legendary "21 Club" with New York City and Northeast media outlets and later that evening at the R.J. Reynolds media reception and dinner at Sardi's Restaurant for the national and local media.
* Sporting guy... The Sporting News announced today that Stewart has been chosen as the NASCAR Driver of the Year, a noteworthy prize since the award is voted on by his fellow drivers. Stewart received 39% of the first-place votes while rookie sensation Jimmie Johnson garnered 22% of the first-place votes. "It's an honor to have my fellow drivers vote me as their Driver of the Year," Stewart said. "Earning the championship was great, but having the respect of the people we race with 38 weekends of the year means everything. I'm truly grateful for this award because there are plenty of other deserving candidates in the NASCAR Winston Cup garage." Other winners announced were Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the recipient of the Dale Earnhardt Toughest Driver of the Year; Ryan Newman as Rookie of the Year; Jack Roush as Owner of the Year; Mark Martin as Comeback Driver; Matt Borland as Crew Chief of the Year; and Matt Kenseth's No. 17 team as Pit Crew of the Year.
NASCAR Winston Cup Series Awards Ceremony.
Hammerstein Ballroom, Manhattan Center, New York City.
8-10:30 p.m. ET, Friday, Dec. 6.