Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Impala SS, was the guest of today's Nextel Wake Up Call at Dover International Speedway. Stewart discussed the upcoming Prelude to the Dream event and what it means to grassroots racing, how he got so many NASCAR ...
Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Impala SS, was the guest of today's Nextel Wake Up Call at Dover International Speedway. Stewart discussed the upcoming Prelude to the Dream event and what it means to grassroots racing, how he got so many NASCAR drivers to participate in the event, his thoughts on his Nextel Cup season this year and other topics.
ON WHAT THE PRELUDE TO THE DREAM EVENT MEANS TO GRASSROOTS RACING AND THE SPORT: "It's really huge. Obviously the response in the last three years that I got from other promoters of short tracks, they've been very supportive obviously of what we've been doing here. It's just a unique opportunity to take racing and race car drivers at this level and take them to short track racing. There's a lot people that don't necessarily get a chance to go to Nextel Cup events but still follow the drivers and this an opportunity for them to go see their favorite drivers do something that they're not accustom to doing and not doing on a regular basis. It's pretty neat. It was a pretty neat concept, something that wasn't really unheard of but normally you'd see one or two drivers go to an event but thanks to Nextel and this year having Old Spice come on with the HBO side of it, it's grown to something that we never ever thought it would get to and without Nextel's help I don't think we would have ever got it this big in the first place. I think outside of Nextel Cup racing or a NASCAR-sanctioned event where you've got this many NASCAR drivers all in the same place."
HOW DID YOU GET SO MANY NASCAR DRIVERS TO PARTICIPATE? "I just asked them and when you mention it's for Victory Junction Gang Camp it makes it a lot easier also. Part of my theory on all this is to make it fun for these guys. There's a lot of times that you'll go to a track and you'll have meet and greets and this and that that you have to do. We try to keep things that we have to do down to a minimum for these guys. The pit area is secured where it's just.the Hendrick team plane is coming up with the 48 and 24 guys and bringing like 40 people up there. I know Clint Bowyer is bringing like eight or 10 people. So the people that will be in the pits are only guys that the drivers have invited. We just try to keep it to where these guys can walk around, they can joke around, talk without kind of having the mob scene that we have here on a weekly basis. It's an opportunity to bring them back to simpler times when racing was a little less complicated than what it is now. Last year Kurt Busch and I and Ryan Newman were just leaning up against the car talking, you never see that happen over here. It's just too complicated for that kind of stuff to happen. It's just fun. It's not a situation where they've got to race the local hot shoes and worrying about somebody taking them out that they don't know. Everybody that they're racing with they know and that makes it a little bit easier for them too."
ON HBO BEING ADDED THIS YEAR AND HOW THAT CAME TOGETHER AND HOW IMPORTANT IT IS FOR THE EVENT: "It is unbelievable for the event. We can only get so many people in there obviously but there are so many people across the country that can't afford to fly across the country to watch their drivers on a Wednesday night. Wednesday is kind of a hard night to travel so to have HBO come on board and Old Spice kind of taking care of that side of it has really, really added to this event. So many people across the country are excited about this and able on Wednesday night to sit in the comfort of their own home and watch their favorite Nextel Cup drivers and we've got a lot of the TV commentators that do the Nextel Cup races helping out so it's going to have that Nextel Cup feel but at the same time still be on a short track. To be able to see pit interviews and the things that they're used to seeing is something that I think is taking this event to another level and we're really, really thankful HBO wanted to be a part of it with us."
DO YOU HAVE ANY DISTINCT MEMORIES OF THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW AND THE FIRST TIME YOU RACED THE TRACK AT ELDORA? "At that age you're young enough to where.I was 20 when I went there the first time it wasn't 15 but I might as well as have been 15. When I walked in there I was scared to death. I went to Jack Hewitt and asked him 'How do you get around this place?' He was really good there. He said 'Well, if you're car's right you can run wide open around there.' I just ran wide open around there and qualified fifth in the sprint car out of like 60 some odd cars and qualified second in the Silver Crown race. He came down after I qualified the sprint car and said 'Hey, I was just kidding. You really can't run your sprint car wide open around here.' So I said 'Well thanks for telling me that after you tried to kill me.' It's just a neat place. There's no place in the country that I've been to that's like and still to this day...the closest thing I've found to it is Kenny Schrader's track. We joke around and call it little Eldora because it's a three-eighths mile track but it's almost the same shape and banking and everything as Eldora, it's just a little bit smaller."
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU AND SHORT TRACK PROMOTERS FACE? "Mother Nature single handedly. Pavement you can dry quick, dirt when it gets moisture in it you're not going to just take a jet drier out there and dry it out. It doesn't work that way. If it would rain seven days in a row it could rain out an event two days before the race is supposed to happen because there's just no way there you're going to get all the moisture out. Spring time is a pretty nervous time for dirt track promoters because of rain in general."
ON HIS RADIO SHOW BEING HOT AND WHAT HE'LL TALK ABOUT NEXT WEEK: "I don't know, I'm going to talk to Zippy and see what you and him talked about today because you're normally pretty good with the gossip and the normal he said/she said so I'll probably pick up on what you talked about and just carry it to the radio show."
HOW DO YOU WANT NEXT WEEK'S EVENT TO BE FOR THE OTHER DRIVERS PARTICIPATING? "Like I said, the biggest thing is just making sure everybody has a good time. I want the people that show to have a good time. I want the track to be good for the drivers and for them to have a good time. I need to take a second to thank Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth and a couple of the other guys that have really have been working hard and taking time out to do interviews and stuff about Eldora. Everybody has really poured their heart and soul and their time into it and those guys have really worked hard to help us promote the event. I don't know, I think the only time I'm going to slip the drivers' hat on is when I actually put my hat on and put my helmet on. I'll be so nervous all night. If I don't have an ulcer in the next week I'll be really happy. So far the long range forecast, the weather is supposed to be good which is about three quarters of my worrying and the rest of it we'll have to take care of when we get there. I'm just hoping everybody has a good time, that's the main thing. If I didn't care about it I wouldn't worry about it but it's hard to not care about what's going on there and obviously just making sure everybody has fun is the big thing. I'll probably just worry about the majority of the night and driving will be the best part of the night for me because I'll have the opportunity to quit worrying for at least a short period of time."
HOW COMPETITIVE WILL EVERYONE BE? "You look at the guys that have dirt racing backgrounds, you've got Kenny Schrader, Kenny Wallace, Dave Blaney, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, myself, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards - there's probably eight or 10 guys that have run a lot of dirt. There's not been one year that we've been there it's not been ultra competitive and everybody's given 100 percent. Matt and I were joking last year after a eight lap heat race and he won and I ran second to him and we were wore out after eight laps just because you're just sawing on the steering wheel in those things versus a Cup car where it's more endurance than it is a short sprint like that. It's pretty tiring on everybody but everybody runs 100 percent. It's hard to not be competitive with this group of guys that you're with and want to go out there and beat them. There's never been a case where anybody just went out there and said 'I'll just ride around the back and stay out of everybody's way,' except for Harvick maybe and that's only because he crashed a car. He keeps wanting to quit. He goes 'I want to be the honorary flagman or something.' I said that I've already got $10,000 invested in Harvick's dirt late model career because I had to buy a brand new car after Harvick destroyed it the first year that we had it. So I won't let him retire until he at least makes 10 grand back."
DO YOU SEE THIS EVENT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW DRIVERS THINGS THAT ARE REALLY VALUABLE AND REALLY FUN? "I think they know how much fun it is. I think a lot of it is they've always been worried about what their car owners would say. I know when I got to the airport yesterday David Reutimann was going to the airport, I was leaving the airport and coming to the track here. He said 'Where you going?' I said 'The track's the other way.' He laughed and said he was going to run a dirt modified last night, him and Carl Edwards. You look at how many us now are going to do that. I think that's kind of a tell tale sign of how fun it really is. Schrader does it more than anybody. Kenny Wallace runs probably second most of anybody and you've got Kasey Kahne and I, you've got Blaney that will run a dirt race every now and then. Carl and Reutimann, there's a lot of guys that are going to do stuff like that because it just doesn't have the pressure that we have every weekend here. You can go and you're there at five o'clock and you're done at 9, 10 or 11 and you come home and you're done for the night. You're not there for three days to run one event. It does let these guys have a release and enjoy just being on the dirt for a night."
WHO HAS IMPRESSED YOU THE MOST IN BEING ABLE TO ADAPT TO THE DIRT OVER THE LAST COUPLE YEARS? WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY OF THE FIRST TWO EDITIONS OF THIS RACE? "Well the first one was the red flag where I saw four cars wadded up there and I was going 'Boy that's going to cost me a lot of money.' That was Harvick's big deal obviously. I don't know that I'd say it was a surprise but probably the one that's impressed me the most has been Matt Kenseth. Matt bounced the right rear off the fence in qualifying the first year and at that time ended up setting quick time and that was about two thirds of the way through qualifying so it was pretty impressive to see him because I knew he hadn't race on dirt at all and he picked up to it like something he had done all of his life. Guys like him and Mike Wallace, there's a lot of guys that have really impressed out there going but Matt really is one that really stood out from somebody that just had never really ever ran on dirt before and had ran one race before he came to Eldora and Eldora is not exactly one of those places that is really easy to adapt to if you haven't been on dirt. The speed is pretty intimidating at times. To see him go out there the way he did.last year we battled for the lead in the heat race and he looked like he had been in a dirt car his entire life. He looked like the guys that do it three nights a week."
ON HOW HIS CUP SEASON HAS GONE THIS YEAR: "Obviously it's not been the season we've wanted. It's like you say, is the glass half full or half empty? If you look at how our spring has went, we've been above average of where we typically are at this point in the season as far as our performance. I think the disappointing side of it is that we've had opportunities to win races and haven't been able to finish them off. That's the disappointing part but the up side to that is that we've had opportunities to win races which isn't really our strong suit normally the first third of our season."
HOW MUCH OF YOUR TIME WILL YOU HAVE TO USE TO REPAY THESE DRIVERS FOR PARTICIPATING? "Whatever it takes. The thing about these guys is A, they don't keep score anyway. It's not about that to those guys. Whenever we get asked to do it if we're available to go do something we'll always do it. I think that's important and that's something that's really neat being a part of NASCAR and the Nextel Cup Series is that drivers support other drivers causes and foundations and efforts so when they ask I go. To me it's not about keeping score or repaying debts, it's just about if this guy asks you to do something and you've got that day available you go do it and that's the attitude we've kept with it."
HOW MUCH FURTHER CAN YOU GROW THIS EVENT BEFORE IT BECOMES A SPECTACLE OR BEFORE NASCAR IS PETITIONED TO RUN A DIRT RACE? "I've been saying that for eight years! I've known you for eight years and I've been talking about how NASCAR needs to run a dirt race. It's not the first time we've talked about it. I think Wednesday night will be a good indication that NASCAR should look even harder at it. We run road courses with cars that aren't really supposed to be run on road courses, so why not run them on dirt? It makes sense to do that. Who knows how big this is going to get? We never dreamed last year that HBO would have came on board and it would be on Pay-per-view this year. We had Buddy Rice from the IRL call last week and wanted to try to get a ride at the last minute. I think when you guys see the cars you'll see how much effort went into getting these cars to where everybody knows who's in what car this year. Which is something we've tried to step up with and make it easier for everybody to identify each other in the cars. It was a little late to try and get him in a car but Buddy Rice said that there were other IRL drivers that were interested in coming. So that's maybe something that next year gets added to it so it tends to have more of an IROC flavor in having different drivers from different disciplines. We've got two drag racers in the field, we're got Red Farmer and we've got Ray Evernham. It's not just about having Nextel Cup drivers in the field. It's about having guys that care about Victory Junction and guys that don't get a chance to do this very often coming together and running together."
ARE THE FANS AT ELDORA SIMILAR TO THE FANS AT DOVER? "It's the same enthusiasm for sure. Last year it was pretty amazing because I'm sitting there inside a trailer watching it rain and the PA announcer said there was lightning in the air and they probably needed to move the grandstands and get under cover. Nobody would leave their seats and I was like 'these guys are crazy, it's downpouring and they're not leaving their seats'. There was lightning in the area and nobody cared about moving. It was pretty obvious that with that kind of rain that there wouldn't be any cars on the track in the next half hour but nobody cared. They were there, they were happy, it wasn't so much that it was a race they went to, it was an event they went to. And everybody was just having a good time. Denny Hamlin probably put on the best show when we got rained down in the spring there running one of the push trucks around there wide open, sliding around in the mud. Which scared me to death. I don't know on dirt if he could drive a ? down a snowbank yet. But he put on a pretty good show driving around there with two people on the passenger side with his arm out the window, waving to everybody. Everybody was just having a good time. It's just one of those events that it's like a miniature Kentucky Derby or Indy 500 where people don't necessarily care about who wins, they are just there to see all the action and have fun."
TALK ABOUT THE OFFICIATING OF THE RACE. ARE YOU INVOLVED? "Being a competitor I relinquish the official side of everything. I get to be the official warrior of the night and that's it. That's all I'm allowed to do from an officiating standpoint. Actually, the first year I got into it with one of our officials over something they did that I didn't think was right but they won that battle too. You never win a battle with officials even when you own the race track."
WHAT KIND OF AN AUDIENCE DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE? "I'm not sure. Nobody really knows what to expect. That's part of the reason why we're here today - we're hoping for the best. It's $25 on Pay-per-view, which is less than a ticket to go to the race, I think. But no matter where you are at, you can watch it across the country. As long as you've got either satellite or cable you can subscribe for the night on an HBO channel. You don't have to subscribe to HBO to get it. All you have to do is get it for that event. You can sit in the comfort of your own home and watch your favorite Nextel Cup guys do something they're not used to doing. I'm a little bit uncomfortable at some points of the night and that's kind of fun. That's what brings the personalities out in this event is listen to the interviews when we do the PA interviews and everything, talking to these guys. They don't necessarily have that confident sound to their voice and some will just admit openly that they're not near as comfortable as they are in a Cup car which is fun to watch. It's fun to watch them through the night getting uncomfortable as they go."
YOU SEEM EXCITED ABOUT THIS EVENT. ARE YOU STILL EXCITED ABOUT THE CUP RACING? "No matter how excited I am about Wednesday, if I wasn't excited about this weekend I wouldn't be excited about walking in here today. I'm real excited about being here this weekend. I think with the new car I'm guessing the way the car will drive will play back into my hands here a little bit. I'm excited about it. I hope we have a good weekend here. There's a lot of weekends that have been like this, just nobody sees it. But I think our team is having more fun than they've probably ever had. Even last year, we'd joke around and have fun, even with the adversity that we face this year and with the disappointments, we're just laughing and having fun, kidding around. I've got the scars to prove it. Zippy and I were wrestling at Daytona in the trailer, screwing around and having fun, and that's stuff you don't see a lot of these teams doing all the time."
HOW MANY FANS CAN YOU EXPECT AND ACCOMMODATE AT ELDORA? WHERE WOULD YOU THINK A NASCAR DIRT EVENT WOULD BE BEST HAD? "About 20,000 with standing room only. I think there is about 16,600 actual seats. The rest of it is a lawn seating area in turns one and two where people can lay their blankets down and that's just like an amphitheater or something like that to where they can enjoy it. So about 20,000 is what we can accommodate in the stands with standing room only. I would love to see a NASCAR dirt race. I think that would be absolutely huge. I think the biggest trouble with it is no place to have the accommodations to host a NASCAR Nextel Cup event there. Track-wise, Syracuse is a perfect example. I don't think you could go any smaller than a half mile, obviously. I honestly believe Eldora would be a good place for them just because of how wide it is. A lot of half miles are really tight and small but every division we've ever ran at Eldora has been able to run there. I want to talk to ARCA about coming back and running at Eldora possibly. I definitely think it would work for sure. There's a lot of dirt mile fairgrounds tracks that would be perfect to run these cars on and it would be very easy for them to run on."
-credit: gm racing