Darlington Raceway 500
Tony Stewart - Time To Give Darlington "The Business"
How can an old-school track like Darlington (S.C.) Raceway not show an old-school racer like Tony Stewart some love? The two are kindred spirits, with an appreciation of racing history and little patience for glitz and glamour. The red-and-white striped walls that encompass Darlington's 1.366-mile layout are akin to Stewart's T-shirt and jeans persona.
If you can say you won a race at Darlington that's a feather in your cap.
Yet, here's Stewart, a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion with 39 career victories and more than 11,430 laps led dating back to his rookie year in 1999, with no wins at Darlington and only 14 laps led in 18 career starts. Where's the reciprocity? Doesn't the "Lady in Black" know that Stewart is a throwback racer, drawing comparisons to the ultimate old-school racer A.J. Foyt?
When not racing in Sprint Cup, Stewart will steal away time to drive USAC Sprint, Midget and Silver Crown cars, along with dirt Late Models, pavement Modifieds or winged Sprint Cars. In fact, on Tuesday night, Stewart did just that, flying to Oklahoma where he ran a World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series race at Salina Highbanks Speedway.
The majority of drivers in the Sprint Cup Series just don't do that anymore. Yet, the most appreciation Stewart can get from the "Lady in Black" for his old-school-style extra-curricular racing is a third-place finish in the 2009 Southern 500. Really?
It's time to give Darlington "the business" not just because Stewart has more than paid his dues (he left the 2002 April race in an ambulance after getting T-boned by Jimmy Spencer's Dodge) but because Stewart is kicking off the Official Small Business of NASCAR, Courtesy of Office Depot sweepstakes this weekend at Darlington.
Stewart's business is racing. He's a driver. A team owner. A track promoter. He has 13 businesses in all, and each is related to racing in some way. Certainly, this is something the "Lady in Black" can appreciate, for when it comes to racing, Stewart is all in, just as Harold Brasington was in 1949 when he plowed up a parcel of land in Darlington that once grew peanuts and cotton to build a one-and-a-quarter-mile oval, shaped like an egg so as to not disturb a minnow pond belonging to Sherman Ramsey, the man who sold Brasington the property. After locals derided the project as "Harold's Folly" Brasington gave them "the business" on Sept. 4, 1950 when 75 stock cars took the green flag three-wide in a race called the Southern 500.
With the 62nd running of the Southern 500 scheduled for Saturday night, it's Stewart who plans to dig deep like Brasington and give Darlington "the business" in the form of netting that long-sought win and teeing up Office Depot's Official Small Business of NASCAR promotion in style.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Why is a win at Darlington a feather in any driver's cap?
"A lot of it has to do with the history of the track. If you can say you won a race at Darlington that's a feather in your cap. That's something to be proud of, knowing that you're in a group of drivers with names like Pearson and Petty the pioneers of our sport who you hear stories about the races they ran there and the races they won there.
"Darlington is such a tough track to get a handle on and to be good at all day. You don't see a lot of guys who have a lot of success there. You see only a handful of guys who religiously run well there. That just shows you how difficult Darlington is to get a handle on. If you can have a good day and win there, it's a track that's like winning at Bristol. It's the same type of feeling knowing that you conquered something that's very hard to obtain."
It may not be in Sprint Cup, but you have won at Darlington. Even though it was a NASCAR Nationwide Series race in 2008, how did it feel to finally win for the first time there?
"With the rich heritage and history at Darlington to win there and be the first guy to win after they resurfaced it it's a feeling that's hard to describe. It's just cool to win at Darlington. You think back to guys like David Pearson who were so good there. This series is just so deep in history, and this is one of those tracks where the history goes as deep as NASCAR does. To finally get a win at Darlington was a huge honor for me."
Does that win help in any way for what you want to accomplish when you return for this weekend's Southern 500?
"It doesn't hurt. Just because you won in a Nationwide Series car doesn't guarantee success in the Cup car. We still have to go out and do our job on the Cup side. The cars drive totally different. We've got a lot more horsepower with the Cup cars than the Nationwide cars have, so the driving style is different. But still, we had a good run with the Nationwide car and then a good run in the Cup car, and I think that, as much as anything, gives you confidence."
One of your old USAC T-shirts read "New Blood From an Old School." In terms of you racing at Darlington, is that a shirt that could be sold again?
"I think that shirt would be appropriate at Darlington. Some people aren't that deep into the history of the sport, but there are a lot of us who do appreciate the past. And I guess for me, being able to race at Darlington is a way of preserving the past."
And I guess for me, being able to race at Darlington is a way of preserving the past.
Coming from an open-wheel background, was Darlington a place that even open-wheel guys had respect for simply because of the track's history?
"Absolutely. As much as we know about the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I think people underestimate how much we know about Darlington and the history of that track, and how hard it is to win races there. I guess that's why a Sprint Cup win at Darlington is something that's really important to me."
Darlington was repaved back in 2007. Because the still relatively new pavement has increased speeds, do aerodynamics play a bigger role at Darlington?
"Aerodynamics play a role everywhere we go nowadays. Martinsville might be the only track where aerodynamics don't really play a role anymore. So even at a place like Darlington, you've got to make sure you keep the fenders straight because you need every bit of downforce you can get."
The Darlington race is the night before Mother's Day, and your mom - Pam Boas - will be one of the many mothers who will serve as grand marshals for Saturday night's race. What kind of support has your mom given you during your racing career?
"My whole family supported me, basically. Mom was a little more reserved and a little more quiet about it than my father was. My father was kind of the ring leader. He was the one who made all the decisions on what we did and didn't do. While she was a little bit reserved, she was, and still is, one of my biggest supporters."
How would you describe your mom?
"She's a pretty patient woman. Anyone that could actually raise me and not want to kill me or kick me out of the house has got to be a very patient person. That's my mom. She's a very patient lady with a great heart and she's really good with people."