Tony Stewart is enjoying his new life of driving – and not just behind the wheel of a sprint car again.
In his first year without racing NASCAR in 18 seasons, the three-time Cup champion is logging as many hours on the interstate as on the track, driving the Ford pickup truck that pulls his team’s T-shirt trailer between races.
“It’s nice to get on the road, driving down the interstate,” Stewart said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “You can think of a lot of things, you can also just have time to not think of anything and just relax. Driving down the road is a good opportunity just to do that.”
During one recent stretch, Stewart drove the truck to a track near Madison, Wisconsin. After arriving midafternoon and racing, he left at 1 a.m. and drove until 5:30 a.m. After a six-hour break, he and the team completed the drive to Knoxville Raceway in Iowa for a Saturday night race that ended around 11 p.m.
Stewart then drove the trailer back to his team’s shop in Brownsburg, Indiana, arriving around 8 a.m. He reached his house near Columbus an hour later and slept until late afternoon.
The souvenir business is strong enough in dirt-track racing to make the road trips worth the effort. Kyle Larson’s success in sprint cars this year has put the spotlight on the disparity between merchandise profits for drivers in Cup vs. grassroots.
“I know it’s been a controversy, but everywhere we’ve gone and taken our souvenir trailer, we’ve done great with it,” Stewart said on the podcast. “I know for the drivers whose full-time job is driving race cars, that T-shirt business is huge. Thank God it’s not under the NASCAR side of it, or these guys wouldn’t be making anything on souvenirs. The guys on the NASCAR side aren’t making squat on souvenirs, and it’s something that ticks me off daily. The drivers who worked their entire life to build their brands aren’t making the most money on it.”
Four days after recording the podcast, Stewart won his second sprint car race of the season, which he described as “a challenge.
“It’s not been near as easy as I’d like it to be,” said Stewart, who has struggled to adapt his cars and style to a different tire. “But that’s why l like going sprint car racing, too, because it’s not easy. It’s really difficult.”
What has been easier for him is the pace of life without the demands of being a full-time NASCAR driver. As an owner of various racetracks, companies, series and teams, Stewart faced as much pressure from outside the car while trying to race Cup.
“We’ve got a lot of things on our plate,” he said. “This has taken a ton of stress out. The workload is higher now, but I’m having fun doing the work that I’m doing. It’s definitely been the right move for me.”
It also has allowed for some unique freelancing for Stewart, who raced in the prestigious Little 500 for the first time this year and plans to become a regular at an annual three-quarter midget race at the Columbus, Indiana, fair (along with attending the Monaco Grand Prix next year). A one-off ride in the Global Rallycross series also is a possibility.
“It’s nice to be so busy that it’s hard to find time to do all the things we want to do,” he said.
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