Some NASCAR drivers race to live, but Tony Stewart lives to race. The 2016 season marked the end of Stewart’s memorable career as a NASCAR driver. During his NASCAR premier series career, he earned three championships and 13th place on the all-time wins list. But NASCAR is only part of his story. Stewart, known as “Smoke,” also achieved success in open-wheel and go-kart racing and as a team owner later in his career. This exhibit explores Stewart’s incredible achievements in motorsports from his early days of racing to present day.
Smoke: A Tribute to Tony Stewart closed on March 14 is not longer on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
It has been said that Tony Stewart can drive just about anything—and win. Maybe it’s because he has spent his life behind the wheel. It all began with the lawn mower that he drove around his parents’ yard in Rushville, Indiana, when he was 2.
USAC’s top-three national touring divisions are National Midget, National Sprint Car and Silver Crown. Each run very different types of race cars and compete on both asphalt and dirt. Tony Stewart won the 1995 championship in all three divisions. No driver had ever before won USAC’s “Triple Crown” in a single season until Stewart came along.
In 1997, Tony Stewart won the pole four times and took home the winner’s trophy on the seventh race of the season, earning him the Indy Racing League (now Verizon IndyCar Series) championship.
Tony Stewart became the first driver to finish both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. In this grueling trek, known as “Double Duty,” Stewart competed in an Indy car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before flying to Concord, North Carolina, to compete in the Coca-Cola 600 that evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He finished ninth and fourth, respectively, clocking a total of 1,090 miles.
In 1999, Tony Stewart’s first full year in stock car competition, he won three races, which also earned him a rookie season record. Stewart’s success was no flash in the pan. In his second year, he won six races and claimed 23 top 10s. By the end of his fifth full season, he had earned 17 victories, which equated to success in almost 10 percent of the races he entered.
Incredibly, it only took Tony Stewart four seasons to win his first NASCAR Winston (now Sprint) Cup Series championship. His second championship season came in 2005. For the second half of the season, Stewart was the man to beat, holding the number one spot in points for all but one of the last 16 races of the year. The 2011 championship was both a nail-biter and a record-maker. In the last race of the season, his win tied him for the season with Carl Edwards, but because Stewart had more race victories, he ultimately took home the championship.
The IROC (International Race of Champions) began in 1974 as a way to honor top-level drivers across all types of racing. In recognition of his skill, Tony Stewart was invited to compete in the IROC series five times, accumulating four wins in 20 races. In 2006, Stewart scored his third and fourth IROC victories. Along with a $1 million payout, Stewart earned one accolade that could not be foreseen: The series never ran again after 2006, which automatically made Stewart the last champion of the IROC series.
Tony Stewart has echoed his success behind the wheel as both a team and track owner. On November 16, 2014, Stewart claimed his second car owner's title in the NASCAR premier series when his driver Kevin Harvick took top honors.