From Spectator to Competitor to Owner, Tony Stewart has Seen and Done it All at Eldora ROSSBURG, Ohio (May 31, 2007) -- Long before Tony Stewart first turned a lap at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, he turned in his grandstand seat to see...
From Spectator to Competitor to Owner, Tony Stewart has Seen and Done it All at Eldora
ROSSBURG, Ohio (May 31, 2007) -- Long before Tony Stewart first turned a lap at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, he turned in his grandstand seat to see the racing action coming off turn four of the legendary, half-mile dirt oval. It wasn't until October 1992 when Stewart was 15 that he finally got the chance to race at Eldora in the USAC 4-Crown Nationals, as he piloted a USAC Sprint car for owner Steve Chrisman and a Silver Crown entry for Ben Leyba.
Since that Eldora first, Stewart returned to Eldora many more times as he climbed his way up the racing ladder. The Columbus, Ind., native has made 17 USAC appearances at Eldora -- five in Silver Crown, eight in Sprint cars and four in Midgets.
Stewart's best year at Eldora came during one of the best years of his entire motorsports career. As Stewart raced to the USAC Triple Crown in 1995 by winning the National Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown titles in a single season, he bolstered his championship run by winning the Sprint and Midget races of Eldora's 4-Crown Nationals.
Today, Stewart is an Indy car champion and a two-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion. He is also the proud owner of Eldora Speedway, home to the June 6 NEXTEL Prelude to the Dream presented by Old Spice, which will be broadcast live on HBO Pay-Per-View, with proceeds from the ground-breaking telecast supporting the Victory Junction Gang Camp and the Tony Stewart Foundation.
"Eldora is a marquee track," said Stewart, who put his money where his mouth is in November 2004 when he purchased the 53-year-old track from longtime owners Earl and Berneice Baltes. "There aren't many half-mile tracks like Eldora, if any. The groove has always typically been right up by the wall, and when you're running that fast at a half-mile track, you have to have a lot of confidence in yourself and in your car that you can run up there without making a mistake. If you make a mistake, you don't have extra room to gather it back up. You run out of real estate very quickly. It's a very, very fast, momentum driven-type race track. You look at the history of the track and you look at the list of champions that have won, and you'll see that it's a very prestigious list of short track drivers that have made their mark there."
Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt raced at Eldora early in their careers, as did the household names of today's racing elite, namely Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.
While Andretti and Foyt have hung up their racing helmets, Gordon, Kahne and Newman are far from that day. Those three drivers, along with Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte and more, will be a part of this year's NEXTEL Prelude to the Dream presented by Old Spice.
The ultra-competitive all-star race featuring motorsports' finest drivers will begin at 7 p.m. ET (4 p.m. PT), with an immediate replay and subsequent replays throughout the week and the following weekend on HBO Pay-Per-View. Prospective viewers can order the event as early as this Sunday, right up until race time on June 6. All that is necessary to order the event is digital cable or satellite service. A subscription to HBO is not required. The suggested retail price is $24.95 and available to more than 61 million pay-per-view homes. Ordering information and up-to-the minute racing information is available at www.hbo.com/sports.
"By having the facility and having a lot of friends who are also supportive of the Victory Junction Gang Camp, it wasn't hard to put this event together," Stewart said. "With the drivers that have come and the people who have come to watch them, along with Nextel and Old Spice's involvement, it's helped make this event bigger and better every year.
"It's pretty impressive to see how much support this race has generated, and every year we have more drivers signing up to come because they hear how much fun it is. It's not a big obligation-type event where they have to do a lot of things. We show up. We race. We get to hang out walking back and forth between our cars and talk to each other and not have the pressure that we have at a typical race. You get to race against your peers and the guys that you compete against every weekend, but in a lot more relaxed atmosphere."
Relaxed, that is, until the green flag drops.
"When you start, you kind of have to find weaknesses in guys just like you do at a regular race," said Stewart, who won last year's NEXTEL Prelude to the Dream presented by Old Spice. "You have to find the part of the track where you're better than they are, so that you can try and set up a perfect opportunity to get by.
"The field last year was so tough. I started eighth and it took me the entire race to get to the front. If Dave Blaney doesn't jump over the cushion, I'm running second to him. I don't even have a shot of winning because we were the same speed. It just shows how competitive this event really is."
In addition to the competition, seeing drivers outside their typical comfort zone by navigating a race car on dirt is always a source of entertainment.
"I think one of the things that's been the most fun for me is watching guys that haven't run on dirt come to Eldora for the first time and then see how much talent they really have," Stewart said. "As an example, I remember when Matt Kenseth came to Eldora the first time. He dragged the right rear corner off the car during qualifying, which is not uncommon there when you're running a dirt lat model. Even the best of the best do it. He was up right by the wall and had set quick time at that point of the night. He took to it like a duck in water. It really shows the fans how much talent these drivers have and why they were able to earn their right as a Nextel Cup driver."
A limited number of tickets are still available for this year's NEXTEL Prelude to the Dream. To purchase tickets, or for more information regarding Eldora Speedway or the NEXTEL Prelude to the Dream presented by Old Spice, log on to www.eldoraspeedway.com.