Texas Motor Speedway

‘Smoke Show’ going on a dozen years at TMS. Should we call Tony Stewart a philanthropist?

Tony Stewart joked that he couldn’t even spell “philanthropist,” but it’s a fitting title for the former NASCAR great.

Stewart has helped raise more than $1.6 million for the Texas chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities through his annual “Smoke Show” at Texas Motor Speedway.

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Stewart will host his 12th “Smoke Show” next Wednesday, and sees no reason to stop doing it for the next dozen years or longer.

“If they do it 20 more years, I’ll be there 20 more years because I really have a passion for what we’ve done these first 12,” Stewart said in a recent phone interview. “I have a lot of fun doing it. I know it raises a lot of money and I know it helps a lot of people. At the end of the day, that’s the main reason we do it.”

Participants of the “Smoke Show” go through a full race-day experience, including driving themselves as well as a three-lap ride along with Stewart. For Stewart, it’s fun to see familiar faces who have become regulars at the event as well as newcomers experiencing racing at its highest level for the first time.

“There’s nothing like it,” Stewart said. “There’s all kinds of driving schools and driving experiences that they can do, but to come here and have the attention to detail that Texas Motor Speedway puts into this program — giving them the entire day of what it’s like to be a driver for a whole day is something that nobody else can give them.”

Stewart, the only driver who has won an IndyCar and NASCAR Cup championship, went on to discuss a number of other topics from the “Smoke Show” to being inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame later this year to his current race schedule:

On the biggest misconception fans have of driving a stock car: “They think it’s a lot easier than it is when they get in the car. They can’t understand how we can run so close to each other, let alone that close to the wall, for 325 laps. You come off the corner twice a lap and go out to that wall, that scares them to death. And then to think we do that in traffic and get even closer to each other than we do the wall sometimes ... that just absolutely baffles people. A, the G-forces, and, b, the heat and the concentration you have to have. They’re mentally and physically exhausted [after 10 laps]. They just really don’t understand what it’s truly like.”

On being inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame next month: “It’s a huge honor obviously, but I’ve been pretty consistent saying this: ‘I have mixed feelings about Hall of Fames right now.’ For me, Hall of Fame stuff is kind of when your racing career is over and the hard part for me is it’s not over yet [competing on dirt tracks, etc.]. I have conflicting feelings about it, but I’m enjoying it.

“It does mean a lot to me. It’s nothing you think about when you’re a driver. It’s not your aspirations while you’re driving to be in the Hall of Fame. When you’re a driver, all you want to do is win races and try to win championships.”

On if he has to remind fans he’s still racing on dirt tracks: “[Fans say] we miss seeing you behind the wheel, but you’re going to the wrong places. I’m racing 100 races a year still. You just have to watch me in a different car. It frustrates me cause it’s like, ‘If you really miss me that much, go watch a dirt race.’ Watch how these guys got to where they are now. Watch how Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell got there. Go to a race and come watch me. You make the effort to go watch a NASCAR race, come to a short-track race.”

On Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing’s top driver in NASCAR championship contention: “It’s shaping up to be the same classic battle of the ‘Big Three’ like last year. Obviously Martin [Truex Jr.] is running well. Kyle [Busch] is running well and Kevin’s running well. It hasn’t been the season up to this point that we’ve been looking for. At the same time, I think I’ve seen some things in the last four or five weeks that makes me feel like we’re starting to gain some momentum at the right time.

“I think Martin’s probably the guy right now that’s really on top of everything, not just because he’s won [at Las Vegas and Richmond last month]. That team is really hitting their stride right now. We’re going to have to be perfect the rest of the season. This is a time where you can’t make mistakes. I feel confident that Kevin’s going to get to that Final Four, but we’re going to have to make sure in the next three or four races we’re getting locked in.”

TMS’ fall race weekend is Oct. 31-Nov. 3, highlighted with the AAA Texas 500 on Nov. 3. Shooter Jennings will perform the pre-race show on Nov. 3. Tickets for the races are available through the track’s website or by calling 817-215-8500.

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