Senior staff writer
Tony Stewart could be the busiest man in motor sports this week.
As owner of Eldora Speedway in western Ohio, he organized one of NASCAR’s most intriguing events, tonight’s MudSummer Classic, on the one-half mile dirt track for the Camping World Truck Series, then heads to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for practice Friday, qualifying Saturday before serving as master of ceremonies for inaugural 100-lap Tony Stewart Midget Classic and racing Sunday in the Brickyard 400.
Most significantly for fans of the historic Indianapolis Speedrome, Stewart returns to his roots at the Southeastside track to be honored.
He will not race but might drive the pace car for the track’s most significant midget car race since the demise of the annual USAC Indy Midget 500.
“This is Tony’s night,” said Larry Curry, Stewart’s longtime friend and Speedrome operating partner. “This race is a tribute to Tony; we want the night to be very special to him.”
Stewart won a USAC regional midget series feature at the Speedrome in 1991 and became the Rookie of the Year. The Rushville native climbed the ladder to the 1997 IndyCar championship, had five Indianapolis 500 starts, three NASCAR Sprint Cup driving, two car owner championships and two Brickyard 400 titles.
He is the only driver to win IndyCar and NASCAR driving championships.
‘Good about Tony’
Curry talked to Stewart several months ago to put a special night together during the three-day Brickyard weekend. Curry was team manager when Stewart raced for IndyCar owner John Menard.
“We know that Tony has gone through some tough times recently; I went through some tough times on my own,” Curry said. “This guy stood beside me every step of the way. To me, this event is all about what is good about Tony.”
Stewart suffered multiple leg injuries in a 2013 sprint car accident at Southern Iowa Speedway and was involved in a controversial accident that resulted in the death of Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint car race in New York.
Stewart – a walking conglomerate – is co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, which fields NASCAR cars for Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick; part owner in two more race tracks; new owner of the All-Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Series and founder of the Tony Stewart Foundation. He also is the most successful team owner in the World of Outlaws winged sprint car series as driver Danny Schatz has won 20-of-44 races this season.
Curry has high hopes that the Tony Stewart Classic will become the signature midget car race each year at the one-fifth mile paved oval.
The $60,000 event consists of 100 laps, with a 20-minute pit stop after 75 circuits. A $10,000 bonus is available to the top three drivers after 75 laps if they go to the back of the pack for the final 25 laps and emerge victorious.
O’Gara among entries
Southsider Kyle O’Gara, who has won three midget car races at the Speedrome this season, is among the drivers.
“This is the biggest race of the year at the Speedrome,” O’Gara said during a promotion night at O’Gara’s Irish Pub in Beech Grove. “I know the track, and with 28 cars on the small track we’re going to be busy all the time.”
Qualifying begins at 2:15 p.m., autograph session at 4 p.m., Dreyer & Reinbold fast dash at 5:15 p.m., followed by heats and the 9 p.m. 100-lap chase. Lap leader prize money is $25 per circuit, with $50 on Lap 6 from Ralph’s Muffler Shop, $100 from Indy Trading Post for Laps 25 and $75 and $500 from Weld Wheels for Lap 50.
The evening will also feature the induction of 12 people into the United States Auto Club Hall of Fame at 6:45 p.m. The honorees are Roger Penske, the winningest car owner in Indianapolis 500 history; Jim Hurtubise, Clint Brawner, Lindsey Hopkins, Jimmy Caruthers, Sheldon Kinser, Larry Rice, Don Kenyon, Shorty Templeton, Sleepy Tripp and famed stock car champions Butch Hartman and Fred Lorenzen.
Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Pro Bass Mobil I Chevrolet, is mired in his worst Sprint Cup season. The two-time Brickyard 400 winner has gone winless since June 2013 and was 25th in points July 11 after leaving Kentucky Speedway.
“You hope you get it done at a race like the Brickyard,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re struggling; you’re always excited to race at home. That’s just a special place to me.”