With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race being held at Richmond, VA this weekend, Tony Stewart was able to make a surprise visit to Williams Grove on Friday, April 24. When Saturday’s Cup was rained out, he then flew to Port Royal, Pa. for Saturday’s second half of the All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car series double header.
No, not in what a couple of years ago might have been considered in his usual role as a driver, and not even as a car owner, but, rather, as the new owner of the All-Star Sprint series.
For Stewart, who certainly has a full plate with his Stewart-Haas four-car Sprint Cup team and ownership of Eldora Speedway, acquiring the All-Stars was done out of love for Sprint Car racing. A battle was being formed that neither side would win and would have been detrimental to Sprint Car racing when the Renegade start-up series was organized to challenge the established All-Stars, so Stewart jumped in to acquire the All-Stars and consolidate the two factions under his banner.
While Stewart got his start in Sprint Car racing with the wingless USAC organization, he developed a love for winged Sprint racing many years ago.
“When I started my first Outlaw team with Danny Lasoski in 2001, it didn’t take me too long to fall in love with [winged Sprint Car racing]. I really learned a lot more about winged racing.
“Everything that we have done, including that team in 2001, and how things have grown and acquiring Eldora Speedway and now the All-Stars, none of it was a master plan. It was all circumstances that came at the right time.”
Stewart jokingly added, “If this goes wrong, I blame (National Sprint Car Hall of Fame driver) Danny Smith, cause he’s the one who called me on the 28th of December to see if I could book a Renegade race at Eldora, and I said, ‘I think we’ve already got an All-Star show scheduled,’ and then we talked about maybe there might be the opportunity to get with Guy Webb and acquire the All-Stars.
“It’s a labor of love. It’s something you don’t do unless you really love it, and this is something I’m passionate about.”
From what I saw in one “eastern” swing, his effort has paid off.
The All-Stars brought fourteen cars to the Grove, when, in past years, seven would have been considered a large invasion. Despite the invaders’ increased number, the Grove regulars continued to dominate the All-Stars, as Greg Hodnett’s impressive win marked the twenty-ninth consecutive time the locals beat the invaders; in fact, an All-Star driver has never won an All-Star sanctioned event at the Grove.
Complementing the PA Posse, Stewart said that, “I don’t care if it’s an All-Star show or an Outlaw show, every time you come to Pennsylvania, the deck is stacked against you, because these guys every week that run here, I’d say you could take the Posse and take them anywhere in the country any week and they could run with the locals at any short track. You’re coming to an area that’s loaded with the best talent in the country that doesn’t travel.”
Stewart spent most of the night in the pits observing the workings of the event.
“’Working,’ that’s a little bit of a stretch saying I’m working. I’m the one who gets to wear a radio and get in everybody’s way. Richmond is a forty-minute flight. I got here when qualifying was over, just walking through and talking to the drivers and team owners. Just letting them know we are here, and if they need anything to let us know. This is something I’m pretty proud of since we started at the beginning of January to acquire the All-Stars. It’s been a lot of fun to work with the owners and the drivers and how passionate they are about the series and coming here to PA. So long as it wasn’t more than an hour and a half flight, I was going to make it here to Williams Grove, for sure.”
Stewart’s ownership history has been a good one, so far. “Nobody’s wanted to fist fight me in the pits yet,” he joked. “Everybody’s really excited about it. I think when we went to Florida there was a lot of excitement, but there were a lot of guys that, when we got the two organizations back to one, there were guys that weren’t prepared to go to Florida, but once we got to Ohio and Attica and now here to Williams Grove, it’s nice to go down through [the pits] and see them, to see how excited everybody is, and that’s what makes the long nights [worth while].
“Don Graby, the Race Director upstairs who’s putting this on, we were on the phone last night until 1:00 in the morning. We’re putting long hours in and odd hours, but everybody’s appreciating the effort we’re putting into it.
“The team’s have been unreal. I went on vacation during Easter week and I was on the phone every night talking to owners and drivers about the rules package and what we were going to change, and ideas, and getting their feedback. It’s a lot of fun to work with these guys. A lot of them I knew from driving with them, but I didn’t know some of the owners and a lot of the drivers I didn’t know, but I got to know them in the last month.”