Stewart adds track owner to racing resume

Thursday, April 20, 2006

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Tony Stewart climbs fences. He also helps design them.

The two-time and reigning Nextel Cup champion, who seems to be a long way from retirement as one of NASCAR's biggest stars, already has a second career. And he's gotten involved in everything as a dirt track owner at the grass-roots facility where he got his racing start.

The driver of the No. 20 orange Home Depot Chevrolet, who has made scaling fences part of his victory celebrations, owns famed Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. The track is a long way from the glitz and glamor of NASCAR's top circuit, and Stewart quickly had to confront his biggest challenge so far.

"Well, it was probably the first night, the women's restroom in the pits being stopped up," Stewart said. "So, the first night I realized it was a lot more than just turning on the lights, open the gates, sell tickets, hot dogs and the race goes fine."

Stewart purchased Eldora in November 2004 from Earl Baltes, who retired after owning and operating the facility for 51 years.

Stewart's work at the track even involves pre-race entertainment.

Stewart, fifth in the Cup standings after a rare weekend off for the series, said his track ownership already is helping shape his post-racing career.

"There is going to be a day that I am not going to be able to drive race cars any more and you sit there and wonder, 'Well, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?'" said Stewart, who turns 35 on May 20. "I have something now that I can dedicate the rest of my life to helping what got me to this level: To help other drivers come through Eldora Speedway in their quest to get here also."

The Indiana native also owns teams in the World of Outlaws and USAC racing series. In 1991, he got his start at Eldora -- billed as "Auto Racing's Showcase since 1954." Stewart still runs in special events on the half-mile dirt track with other Cup drivers and dirt-track regulars.

"Obviously, we do have a different angle that other short tracks don't because of who we are with NASCAR," he said. "Hopefully, what we are doing is opening the eyes of corporate America to the value of short-track racing."

Stewart believes dealing with ownership issues has helped him better understand the way things are done at NASCAR.

"Now that I own a race track, I kind of understand why things are done a little differently, just learning about all the different aspects of a race," Stewart said. "I love it. I really do enjoy it."

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