Sears Point: Tony Stewart preview

Elder Stewart Gave Rushville Rocket His Fuel KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 17, 2009) -- There's an old adage that is sometimes used to describe a father and his son -- the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. In the case of Nelson Stewart and his ...

Elder Stewart Gave Rushville Rocket His Fuel

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 17, 2009) -- There's an old adage that is sometimes used to describe a father and his son -- the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. In the case of Nelson Stewart and his son, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart, the tear-off doesn't fall far from the helmet.

The Tony Stewart you see today is very much like the Nelson Stewart who raced late model stock cars across Northern Indiana in his 20s. Tenacious, tough, determined, and above all, focused. But at the age of 44, Nelson's focus changed. He sold his SCCA D Production car in favor of a go-kart for his seven-year-old son.

In addition to the go-kart, Nelson gave Tony all of the traits that separate a good driver from a good racer.

"He never let me settle for second," said Stewart, who is currently in his 29th year of competitive racing. "He didn't like it when we ran second, and he knew that I didn't like it when we ran second. If he saw that I wasn't giving 100 percent, then he was on me pretty hard about it. He pushed me to be better.

"He never pressured me to be the best racecar driver in the world, but he did want me to be the best racecar driver that I could be. He never compared me to anybody else. He expected that what I could do was what I could do. He never said that because this guy over here could do something, that I should be able to do it, too. He pushed me hard, but he was fair about it. That's probably why you see so much fire in me today, because he always wanted me to be the best that I could be."

Being the best is nothing new to the younger Stewart. He won the 1983 International Karting Federation national championship, the World Karting Association championship in 1987, and was the 1991 USAC Sprint Car rookie of the year. In 1995, he made history by becoming the only driver to win USAC's Triple Crown, taking the national Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown titles. And since he did it while living in the town of Rushville, Ind., the Rushville Rocket moniker was born, much to the chagrin of those in Tony's hometown of Columbus, Ind.

While both towns claim Tony Stewart as their own, it's Nelson whose status as Dad trumps all others, with the exception, of course, being Tony's Mom, Pam Boas.

Both saw their son's open-wheel success lead him to a ride in the IRL IndyCar Series in 1996, which brought him an IndyCar championship a year later. That paved Stewart's way into NASCAR country with Joe Gibbs Racing, where Stewart went on to win 33 Sprint Cup races and two championships before becoming a driver/owner in 2009 with Stewart-Haas Racing, the team he co-owns with Oxnard, Calif.-based Haas Automation.

As a 37-year-old Stewart made the massive leap from being just a driver to taking on the dual role of driver/owner with his own team --Stewart-Haas Racing -- Nelson has been there to see his son succeed once again.

Top-10s begat top-fives for Tony, which included a slew of runner-up results that on May 31 put the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS atop the Sprint Cup championship standings. It was the first time a driver/owner had led the points since Nov. 15, 1992 when Alan Kulwicki clinched the championship by 10 points over Bill Elliott in the year's season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

A week later, Tony claimed his 34th career Sprint Cup win, but first as a driver/owner, when he took the checkered flag on June 7 in the Pocono 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. There in victory lane to greet the first driver/owner to win a race since Ricky Rudd on Sept. 27, 1998 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway was Nelson Stewart.

"At the time he won the first Brickyard, I thought, 'This has got to be the biggest thing we've been involved with or ever seen,'" said Nelson, who watched Tony win his first Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in 2005 and his second in 2007. "But, knowing what it took to get to this point in this deal and seeing him win a race, I'm not going to say I'm putting it above the first Brickyard, but it's right up there with the first Brickyard."

That Nelson ranks his son's victory at Pocono right alongside his first win at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway is proof that Tony's latest endeavor in the ultra-competitive world of Sprint Cup is an impressive achievement.

"Tony's having fun. I guess it's a different side of him than everybody thought he had. It's been there all along," Nelson said. "Right now, everything's just going really, really well and things are falling in place and he's got all good people and everybody's having fun. That's the most important thing is that everybody's having fun. With fun comes success.

"I wasn't privy to all of the information when Stewart-Haas Racing was in the works, but I knew enough about it to know that everybody was working hard at it, and if everything came together the way it looked like it was going to, that it would be a success. I wasn't one of those people from the start that doubted he could do it, because he's amazed me all of his life. Every time I think he can't do something, he turns around and does it. He loves challenges, and this was going to be a definite challenge. It's all about the people. They've acquired the right group of people to do what they need to do."

That Tony has been this successful this soon is due in part to the guidance offered by Nelson as his son grew from a young go-kart racer to prodigy to bona fide star.

"He's my dad, so obviously he's seen and done a lot of things that I haven't," Tony said. "He's given me some good advice over the years, but probably the best advice he ever gave me was to just remember the people who have helped me, because somewhere along the ladder that you're climbing up, you're eventually going to climb back down, and you're going to meet those people again sometime.

"I've watched the folks that he's dealt with in his career and in mine, and we're still friends with all the people that we've raced with in the past. We never felt like we were better than anybody else. We always kept those relationships, and we always treated those people the way they treated us."

"I really think back in the day, back when we started, I paid a lot of attention to detail because we didn't have a lot of money," Nelson said. "The money we had, we had to spend wisely to accomplish the things that we wanted to accomplish. I think Tony is so observant that when he sees something, you may not know that he picks up on it, but he files it away and then somewhere down the road, you run into it again and you see that same thing that you tried to get to him with before. I've seen that several times. He files it all away and thinks, 'One of these days, maybe I'll use it.'

"I think that when we started, clear back when, the way we went about what we did and the way I saw other fathers and their kids go about things, I always told Tony I thought they were trying to take too big of leaps at the time, that they needed to work at it slower and do it more methodical. I think that's the way we did it. I think evidently some of that stuck, because it seems like that's what he's done ever since then. I'm not saying I had anything to do with it, but I think he picked up somewhere along the line in the stuff that I did tell him back then that if you go about it in a systematic manner, good things come from it. It may not have even been by design, but it appears that's the way everything's gone since then."

And with another top-10 finish last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn that gave his son a series-leading 11 top-10s for the season, Nelson is assured of having another very good Father's Day.

-credit: shr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Alan Kulwicki
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing