Pick a racing series. Chose a style of racecar. Name a venue. Chances are, Tony Stewart has proven victorious.
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The driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has scored 12 championships since he first wheeled a go-kart in 1978 at a Westport, Ind., racetrack.
His most widely-known titles are the three he scored in NASCAR's pinnacle series. The three-time Sprint Cup champion earned his first crown in 2002 by beating veteran racer Mark Martin by 38 points, a second in 2005 when he bested Greg Biffle by 35 points, and a third in 2011 when he outdueled Carl Edwards by virtue of a tiebreaker, as the two ended the season tied in points, but Stewart's five-win tally trumped Edwards' lone victory.
Championships begat championships for Stewart, as the Columbus, Ind., native came to NASCAR in 1999 by way of the IndyCar Series, where he was the series champion in 1997. And before he made his mark in Indy cars, Stewart made a name for himself in the rough-and-tumble world of the United States Auto Club (USAC). He has four USAC championships, including what at the time was an unprecedented win of USAC's "Triple Crown."
USAC's top-three national touring divisions are Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown. After winning the Midget title in 1994 and finishing 10th and sixth in the Sprint and Silver Crown divisions, respectively, Stewart went out and set a new standard of excellence in 1995 by winning all three divisions. No driver had ever won the Sprint, Midget and Silver Crown championships – divisions that run three very different types of racecars which compete on both asphalt and dirt – in a single season until Stewart came along.
A hint of Stewart's impending success could be seen when he was still a youngster, for in 1980 at age eight, Stewart had won his first championship – a 4-cycle rookie junior class championship at the Columbus Fairgrounds. Two more karting championships followed, but this time on a national level – the 1983 International Karting Federation Grand National championship and the 1987 World Karting Association National championship.
Throw in a title from the 30-year-old International Race of Champions (IROC) during that series' final year of operation in 2006, and it's clear that Stewart is in a league of his own.
He is the first and only driver to have won championships in stock cars, Indy cars and open-wheel Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown cars. And his three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships make him one of just 15 drivers who have scored multiple Sprint Cup titles, and only the ninth driver to win three or more championships, joining Richard Petty (seven), Dale Earnhardt (seven), Jimmie Johnson (five), Jeff Gordon (four), David Pearson (three), Darrell Waltrip (three) Cale Yarborough (three) and Lee Petty (three).
Along the way, Stewart has won some of the biggest races in motorsports. He is a two-time winner of the Brickyard 400 (2005 and 2007), a six-time winner of the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011) and a two-time winner of the famed Chili Bowl, an all-star Midget race at the Tulsa (Okla.) Expo Raceway (2002 and 2007). He's also notched wins in such famed USAC races as the Copper World Classic at Phoenix International Raceway (2000), the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway (2000) and the 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio (1995).
And before he was a race winner and championship contender, Stewart was a rookie on the rise. The Hoosier won rookie of the year honors in Sprint Cup (1999), the Indianapolis 500 (1996) and USAC (1991).
"When I started racing competitively when I was about seven or eight, getting a trophy that was bigger than the other kids' was all I cared about," said Stewart, who enters his 15th year in the vaunted Sprint Cup Series in 2013. "I couldn't have asked for more out of this life. I feel like I'm a very, very fortunate person, so no matter what happens, no matter how long I race or don't race, the goals and everything that happens from here is just icing on the cake. I've been very lucky to do the things I've done."
Stewart's racing career began at age seven behind the wheel of a go-kart, with his father, Nelson, serving as car owner and crew chief.
"He never let me settle for second," said Stewart of his dad, who still frequents races whenever his schedule permits. "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 pressure 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."
By 1989, Stewart began the transition from go-karts to higher-horsepower, open-wheel machines. He raced Three-Quarter Midgets before turning his attention to the USAC ranks in 1991.
His first USAC championship in 1994 came to fruition thanks to five wins in 22 starts in the National Midget category. It was a prelude to Stewart's historic "Triple Crown" triumph in 1995.
That success led Stewart to earn a ride in the fledgling IndyCar Series. He made the most of it by winning the series championship in 1997, which sowed the seeds of Stewart's current success in NASCAR. A slate of 22 NASCAR Nationwide Series races with Joe Gibbs Racing in 1998 prepared Stewart for his assault on the Cup ranks in 1999.
During that remarkable rookie season, where Stewart won three races en route to the rookie of the year title, he also competed in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. The grueling trek, known as "Double Duty," saw Stewart compete in an Indy car at Indianapolis before flying to Concord, N.C., to compete in the Coca-Cola 600 that evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He became the first driver to complete both races in the same day, finishing ninth and fourth, respectively. All told, Stewart drove a total of 1,090 miles.
Stewart repeated this feat in 2001, when he drove an Indy car for Chip Ganassi at Indy. He bettered his mark from 1999 by finishing on the lead lap in sixth before jetting off to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600. He improved that finish as well, coming home third in the 600-miler. When it was all said and done, Stewart completed all 1,100 miles – breaking his own record for most racing miles driven in one day.
Eyebrows were raised on July 10, 2008 when Stewart announced that after spending his entire NASCAR career with Joe Gibbs Racing, he was leaving to become a driver/owner in the Sprint Cup Series with Stewart-Haas Racing. The last driver/owner to win a Sprint Cup race was Ricky Rudd on Sept. 27, 1998 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, so many pundits saw Stewart's new undertaking as a massive, if not impossible, challenge.
Yet not only did Stewart end the winless streak for driver/owners by snapping their 375-race victory draught when he won the June 7 Sprint Cup race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway – the first of four point-paying victories he earned in 2009 – he broke another streak the week prior when after finishing second at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, he took the championship point lead. Not since Alan Kulwicki on Nov. 15, 1992 had a driver/owner led the point standings, but there was Stewart, 556 races later, atop the points – a position he held for 13 straight weeks before being reseeded for the final, 10-race Chase for the Championship. Stewart one-upped this accomplishment in 2011 when he won the Sprint Cup championship, becoming the first driver/owner to win a title since Kulwicki, but only the third in the last 30 years, as Petty's seventh and final championship in 1979 had been the last for a driver/owner until Kulwicki's in 1992.
Often overlooked in Stewart's transition to a driver/owner in the elite Sprint Cup ranks was his long and successful history as a team owner in other racing series.
Well before Stewart-Haas Racing was even a remote possibility, where from a 144,000-square-foot facility in Kannapolis, N.C., more than 160 employees work on behalf of Stewart's No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet and teammate Ryan Newman's No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet and teammate Danica Patrick's No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, Stewart was already setting himself apart from other talented drivers as an equally talented team owner.
As tenacious as Stewart is in the cockpit of a racecar, he's proven equally adept at providing cars and equipment for racing's future stars – a way to give back to the grassroots racing series that helped him become a motorsports icon.
In November 2000, Stewart formed Tony Stewart Racing (TSR). And what began as a single World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Car Series team is now a powerful four-team entry with strong footholds in the WoO and USAC. Operating out of a state-of-the-art 25,000-square-foot facility in Brownsburg, Ind., TSR fields two USAC teams and two WoO teams.
In USAC, TSR fields the No. 20 Chevy in the Sprint Car division for driver Bryan Clauson. And in the Silver Crown division, TSR fields a pair of entries – the No. 10 Chevy for driver Levi Jones and the No. 22 Chevy for driver Bobby East.
In WoO, TSR fields the No. 15 STP/Armor All Chevy for five-time series champion Donny Schatz and the No. 11 Chevy for 20-time series champion Steve Kinser.
Since its formation, TSR has earned 16 owner championships – 12 in USAC and four in the WoO.
Jones captured the USAC Sprint and Silver Crown titles for a second straight time in 2011. Jones' fifth career Sprint car championship gave Stewart six car owner titles in that division, while Jones' Silver Crown triumph made Stewart that division's winningest entrant with six titles.
Danny Lasoski earned TSR's first championship in its inaugural season competing in the WoO, taking the 2001 championship. Schatz won three of his last five WoO titles driving for TSR in 2008, 2009 and 2012. (Schatz won the 2006 and 2007 WoO championships driving for his own family-run team.)
J.J. Yeley, Stewart's former NASCAR teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, earned a USAC Sprint Car championship for TSR in 2003, followed by Josh Wise in 2006 and Jones in 2007 and 2009. And in a co-owner role with Bob East, TSR won four straight USAC Silver Crown championships from 2002 to 2005 with a handful of drivers that included Yeley, current NASCAR star Kasey Kahne, and Dave Steele.
Additionally, TSR has seven Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals championships in the WoO. Lasoski captured victories in the famed winged Sprint Car event in 2001, 2003 and 2004, while Schatz earned Knoxville Nationals wins for TSR in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Secondary to winning, the mission of TSR has been to select and groom future driving talent. Just a little more than a decade into TSR's existence, that mission has been realized.
On the heels of his 2006 USAC Sprint Car title, Wise followed the path treaded by Stewart to NASCAR, where he's currently making a go at the stock car set by competing in NASCAR's top-three national touring series – Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series. His move onto the next level of motorsports, and the earlier advancement of Yeley who has six years of NASCAR competition, was representative of Stewart's goal for his racing teams – to serve as a springboard into racing's upper echelons. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who drove for TSR for much of the 2007 season, is the most recent example of the TSR ladder system, for the 25-year-old is currently signed with Roush Fenway Racing where he won back-to-back Nationwide Series championships in 2011 and 2012 and will race Sprint Cup full-time in 2013.
In addition to TSR, Stewart also owns the legendary Eldora Speedway. The half-mile dirt oval is where Stewart frequently raced as an up-and-coming USAC driver, and it hosts several of the year's largest dirt racing events, which in 2013 includes a first-ever stop by the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Stewart has proven to be a hands-on owner, assisting with everything from preparing the track to handing out awards during the season-ending championship banquet. Stewart is also part-owner of two other racetracks – Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway and Macon (Ill.) Speedway.
As much as Stewart is devoted to racing, he is also devoted to philanthropy, so much so that he formed his own charitable foundation in 2003. Known simply as the Tony Stewart Foundation, the 501(c)(3) organization's goal is to raise funds primarily distributed to serving three specific groups – chronically ill and physically disabled children, animals that are endangered or at-risk, and drivers injured in the sport of motor racing. To date, the Foundation has awarded more than $5 million to assist charitable initiatives for more than 150 organizations throughout the United States.
While not seeking accolades, Stewart's charitable efforts have nonetheless been noticed. He was named "Most Caring Athlete" by USA Weekend in 2004, and in that same year, was tabbed by The Sporting News as "NASCAR's 'Good Guy' and received the NASCAR USG Person of the Year award. In 2008, NASCAR Illustrated bestowed upon Stewart its Person of the Year award, as Stewart's annual Prelude To The Dream all-star dirt Late Model race at Eldora Speedway has raised more than $4 million for charity during its eight-year run. In 2009, Stewart was nominated for the National Motorsports Press Association's (NMPA) Humanitarian and Spirit awards, each of which recognizes philanthropy. And in 2010 Stewart was again a finalist for the NMPA Humanitarian award, becoming the only person to ever be nominated in back-to-back years. Making the 2010 selection even more noteworthy was that Stewart won, and in turn, earned $100,000 for his Foundation.
Stewart, single, still calls Columbus home, where he owns the house he grew up in as well as a 430-acre farm. He has a sister, Natalie, who assists with Tony Stewart Fan Club initiatives along with their mom, Pam Boas, who also is involved with his Foundation.