MOORESVILLE, N.C. — When the annual Front Row Challenge sprint car race takes the green flag tonight (Aug. 4) at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa, it will mark a year since three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart broke his right tibia and fibula in a crash at the half-mile oval.
Stewart, who returned to the cockpit of a sprint car with a victory July 18 at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Michigan, recently sat down with SPEED SPORT’s Ralph Sheheen in an exclusive interview taped at Eldora Speedway that will air in two episodes of “SPEED SPORT Magazine” on MAVTV beginning Thursday (Aug. 7) at 8 p.m.
Stewart talked about his return to sprint car racing.
“It just felt pretty natural,” said Stewart, who was not injured from his car flipping, but from the drive shaft of his car breaking and impacting his leg. “It was just like when we went to Daytona for Speedweek. The first time I got into the Cup car, it felt pretty naturally and just felt like any typical off-season. It didn’t feel like I had missed anything. Even though it had been 11 and a half months with a sprint car, it didn’t feel like I had been out of it that long. It just kind of felt natural again. That was probably the best part of it was that I didn’t feel that I had taken a step backward. I just haven’t raced as much as everyone else has this year.”
Stewart said the return to sprint car racing was the latest step forward in his ongoing recovery.
“It was like when we went to Daytona, it was checking boxes off you know, getting back into a Cup car, feeling comfortable racing next to guys again, getting in a crash…just checking boxes off left and right,” he explained. “Then getting back in a sprint car was checking another box off again and racing, so yeah, it was a big weight off the shoulders. I think if you can run one of those cars, you can run anything. That’s about as physical of a race car as you’re ever going to drive so, felt like that was really the toughest test for me, physically in the car.”
The negative attention that Stewart’s injuries brought to sprint car racing is something he still has trouble coming to grips with.
“It’s been hard because ever since I got hurt last year, I’ve had a lot of time to get on the Internet and read and, people that understand and get it and know what I’m doing and know why I’m doing it, they’re backing me on it,” Stewart explained. “Then there’s a group of people that are just NASCAR fans. They don’t care about any other form of racing that are bad-mouthing you because you did this and got hurt.
“It doesn’t matter what I’m doing or what you’re doing or what they’re doing, there is something that we all enjoy doing, and I don’t care what you’re responsible for, what your job title is,” Stewart continued. “If you are not doing in your life what you love to do and what you’re passionate about doing, why are we here? What is the point of living our life if we aren’t going to find things we love and enjoy and are able to do it?