Tony Stewart thought his short appearance early in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards meant he was done for the night.
Stewart had a brief interview on stage with NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider about finishing the year 15th in points. But NASCAR wasn’t finished with Stewart, who was participating in the banquet for the final time as a driver.
“I’m glad I didn’t start drinking after I made my deal because I thought I was done,” Stewart told the media backstage. “I’m totally blown away and caught off guard. I don’t even – I really don’t know what to say, to be honest.”
After 18 years, three championships and 49 wins, Stewart is now retired from Sprint Cup competition. In a video clip, Stewart’s fellow drivers reflected on his career before NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton took the stage to introduce another video package. Then came a surprise for Stewart as his friend, and Pearl Jam member, Eddie Vedder appeared.
It didn’t end there.
As Stewart came to the stage, to give a speech he wasn’t prepared for, Rick Hendrick had an announcement to make. On Stewart’s behalf, the NASCAR community made a $1.8 million donation to the EB Research Partnership, which is the largest global non-profit dedicated to curing EB.
The non-profit was co-founded by Vedder. EB, Epidermolysis Bullosa, is a skin disorder and those with it lack the critical proteins that bind the layers of skin together. Without those proteins, the skin can tear apart, blister and sheer off, and lead to severe pain and disfigurement. EB can also affect the body internally by causing blisters in the eye, mouth, esophagus and fusing together fingers and toes.
Stewart met Vedder earlier this year and the two bonded over racing, their love of music, and their commitment to charity work.