This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to the great state of Texas. Tony, recuperating from his January 31 back injury, will be there in various capacities although not behind the wheel of the No. 14 Chevrolet SS – not quite yet. For Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500, Tony will be there as an owner and as a philanthropist.
Question Number 1:
Who was Jay Pfeifer, NASCAR Illustrated’s former editor-in-chief, talking about when he said, “…he can be NASCAR’s most powerful force for good”?
You may guess several names but unless you came up with “Tony Stewart” as the answer – you’d be wrong.
Of course, I’m biased because my job is managing the Tony Stewart Foundation – a pretty cool gig if I do say so myself. Tony has a quiet legacy of outstanding philanthropic work. While Tony isn’t entirely comfortable with having a light focused on his humanitarian side, the rest of us love to share news about his true nature.
While Tony’s foundation will always be his primary ‘vehicle’ for choosing to heed the angel on his shoulder, it’s not his only path he uses to give his time, his energy, his reputation and his money to help children or animals or drivers.
Which leads us to Question Number 2.
What do Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Duck Commander (the company), Foreigner (the rock band) and Tony Stewart have in common?
Each is a recipient of Speedway Children’s Charities Maj. Gen. Thomas Sadler Humanitarian Award. Sadler (1925-2015) was a true American hero who flew in over 400 combat missions in WWII (B-17 nose gunner!), Korea and Vietnam. Starting in 1989, Sadler devoted the next 25 years to helping grow Speedway Children’s Charities to give over $50 million in grants. Gen. Sadler often said, “When you look into the eyes of a child in need, you’re looking into the eyes of God.” He was incredibly dedicated to making a difference for kids who may not have been able to help themselves. You can listen online to PRN’s salute to Major General Tom Sadler released September 2015: https://soundcloud.com/prnlive/a-salute-to-major-general-tom-sadler/.
Tony will be presented the 2016 Award Thursday, April 7, at the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala. Since 2009, Tony has raised more than $1.0 million for Speedway Children’s Charities – Texas Chapter with his annual “The Smoke Show” event. This is a daylong, stock-car fantasy camp which I had the great pleasure of attending way back in 2010 and 2011. The event is a class act from start-to-finish and so much fun for those who are willing & able to make a serious donation to help kids.
Speedway Children’s Charities also feature a “Ride of a Lifetime” program at the 8 SCC tracks. Like many of the popular NASCAR drivers, Tony has participated in this program since 2009. For any given race, a fan makes a donation and, in return, gets to ride the parade lap around the track with Tony, get a photo & an autograph. Tony – as most of the drivers – has always requested the total proceeds be divided equally between SCC and their own foundation. It’s a win-win program for everyone involved. This Ride-Along program combined with The Smoke Show definitely supports choosing to honor Tony a natural.
The Stewart Effect
It is rare recognition but not unprecedented. In 2004, Tony was recognized as a “Most Caring Athlete” by USA Weekend and named NASCAR’s ‘Good Guy’ by The Sporting News. Several similar awards followed over the years including Stewart being named the “2008 NASCAR Person of the Year” – not for his amazing driving skills but for his big heart. He was twice nominated and named once for the National Motorsports Press Association’s (NMPA) Spirit and Humanitarian Award.
Forever a highlight, my first Smoke Show had the unforgettable & absolute thrill of zipping around the Texas Motor Speedway as a passenger with Tony Stewart at the wheel. The driver instruction stock cars have 2 seats. Tony made sure he hugged the wall at every turn so that the passenger (that would be me) felt every little thrill. For five laps he sped around that 1.5-mile track – what a rush. Honestly, it gave me an absolute appreciation for what our NASCAR drivers experience on any given weekend between February and November. The split-second decisions, the sheer G-forces, the heat in the car and the somewhat cumbersome ‘outfit’ require a true athlete to go more than my 5 laps around as the single car on the track (at 170 MPH). Racing is SO much more than “turn left”.
In 2011, I returned to the Smoke Show and witnessed Tony sharing this same driving experience with a war veteran – a man who had lost both legs in the service of his country. The ear-to-ear smile on this man’s face upon exiting the car spoke volumes.
Those of us connected to Tony through his foundation call it “The Stewart Effect”. He gets a lot done by himself, but there’s a definitive track record for motivating his sponsors and his fans to follow his lead – setting off a chain reaction of giving to help others in need.
Tony began his foundation in August 2003 with the first grants awarded in 2004. Through December 2015, more than $6.5 million in monetary grants have been given to amazing charities operating in 41 of the 50 United States. These grants are specific to the Foundation and do not include funds raised through programs like the Speedway Children’s Charities – The Smoke Show and the Ride-of-a-Lifetime – programs.
Smoke will hang up his driving gloves in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series following the November 20, 2016 Ford EcoBoost 400 Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But, our favorite racer will continue his legacy of philanthropy through his foundation which reflects his love for children and animals, as well as for his racing family and community.