Stewart to sign autographs in Columbus

Tony Stewart will take a quick pit stop from his farewell tour as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver to make an appearance in his hometown.

The Columbus native will sign autographs July 11 at the three-quarter midget race at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair. That will be two days after he races at Sparta, Kentucky, and six days before he competes in Loudon, New Hampshire, in his final season as a Sprint Cup driver.

Stewart’s appearance at the fairgrounds was announced by fair board racing director Troy Foist and confirmed by Stewart spokesman Mike Arning.

“It means a lot to the track, the fair and the community,” Foist said.

Stewart, who called Foist to tell him he would make the public appearance in Columbus, is coming off his first Sprint Cup win in more than three years — a victory in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma, California.

It was just after Stewart’s last NASCAR race victory — June 2013 in Dover, Delaware — that he made his most recent scheduled appearance at the fairgrounds. He raced a TQ midget that July night, delighting the grandstand crowd, but won’t be competing this year.

“He started out locally here with go-karts. And after his big win on Sunday, he’s probably ready to come back here with some of us common folk,” fair board president Larry Fisher said. “He’s just a good hometown boy. The fair board and the fairgrounds is always happy to have Tony here.”

Fisher said Stewart has always been closely tied to the fair and has attended when he’s in his hometown, working his way through the crowd largely unnoticed.

“He’s very low key,” Fisher said. “He’s just one of the fairgoers. He’s not up on a pedestal. He’s just there to enjoy the fair. He mingles in with the rest of the crowd. He’s just one of the folks.”

This year, however, Stewart will be the center of attention for about an hour on July 11, when he will sign autographs for fans at a time yet to be determined.

Fans likely will be limited to bringing one item for the driver to sign, Stewart spokesman Drew Brown of True Speed Communications said.

The grandstand at the fairgrounds holds 3,200 people, and bleachers in the pit area hold another 800 to 900. Fisher said that counting people along the fence, about 10,000 to 15,000 attend the TQ midget race each year, and more are expected this year.

Racing at Bartholomew County 4-H Fair

What: Midwest Three-Quarter League Midget race

When: 7 p.m. July 11 (practice starts at 6 p.m.)

Where: Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, 750 W. County Road 200 South

Special appearance: Columbus NASCAR driver and car owner Tony Stewart will sign autographs that day at the fairgrounds, although an exact time has yet to be determined. Fans will be allowed to bring one item for Stewart to sign.