I made the drive up to Indy on Monday afternoon to pick up my press credentials for this weekend’s Brickyard 400.
Since my wife and I both happened to be off, we decided to make it a family trip and visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, which none of us had ever been to before.
It was only my third trip to the Speedway, period, with the other two coming when I covered the Brickyard 400 back in 2003.
The museum had some pretty cool stuff in it — including cars that are more than a century old and an Aston Martin Vulcan, which can be had for the perfectly reasonable price of $2.3 million.
Along the back left-hand side of the museum’s main hall was a display dedicated to Columbus’ favorite son, Tony Stewart. The three-time Cup champion will make his final Speedway appearance as a driver Sunday afternoon.
Several different Stewart cars were on display, ranging from the midget and sprint cars he was driving back in the mid-1990s to the ride he steered to victory in the 2005 Brickyard.
I’m glad I took the opportunity to check that out this week, particularly given what’s happening this weekend. Seeing all of the Stewart memorabilia there helped bring into greater focus for me — as someone who is a) not from Columbus and b) admittedly never followed auto racing particularly closely — just how important Stewart has been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and to racing in general.
I’ve gotten the sense through the years that few drivers can match the passion that Stewart has for driving, and that’s going to be something that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series won’t be able to replace or replicate next year when “Smoke” isn’t out there behind the wheel anymore.
He’s a true racing legend, having excelled in just about every type of vehicle there is. Stewart has won three NASCAR series championships under three different title sponsors. He’s won an Indy Racing League title. He’s one of just two drivers ever to win a USAC triple crown. I don’t have enough space to go through all of his accomplishments, but you get the idea. Many of you have been along for the ride the entire time.
It would be foolhardy to say for certain that Sunday will mark the last time Tony Stewart enters a car race in Indiana; it will nonetheless mark the end of an era. This is his last big-time race at the Speedway — or anywhere else in his home state, for that matter.
It figures to be an emotional day for his close friends and diehard fans for that reason.
I’ll have a pretty good seat for Stewart’s final Speedway act this weekend — and it’s one that I feel like I can appreciate much more after I spent an afternoon getting a better feel for what he’s meant to the place the past two decades or so.
A race-by-race look at how Tony Stewart has fared over the years at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
NASCAR Sprint Cup (Brickyard 400)
IndyCar (Indianapolis 500)
IROC (IROC at Indy)