Tony Stewart has provided the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with quite a few memorable moments during his career. Next week, the speedway will try to return the favor.
To commemorate Stewart’s final season as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, the speedway is installing a 3/16th-mile oval dirt track inside of Turn 3, a nod to the Columbus native’s passion for dirt racing.
The new track will be unveiled Tuesday, when Stewart is scheduled for a media appearance at the speedway.
“Tony doesn’t want gifts, per se,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles told The Indianapolis Star, “but we thought this was a great way to marry his love for dirt-track racing with his love for racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
And boy, has the Speedway been good to Stewart.
In 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at the Brickyard, he has won twice, claiming the checkered flag in 2005 and 2007, and finished in the top 10 all but six times.
Stewart also has three top-10 finishes in five Indianapolis 500 starts — and in 2001 became the first and still the only driver to complete the 500 and also finish NASCAR’s 600-mile race in Charlotte, North Carolina, the same day.
A handful of dirt midget racing teams have been invited to participate in an exhibition on the new track Tuesday.
It’s unlikely that the Speedway will host dirt-track events on a regular basis, Boles told the Star, but he left open the possibility of hosting special events.
The track is expected to be able to accommodate sprint cars as well. Fencing could be added for future dirt-track events, but it would probably have to be temporary. Boles told the Star that the area would be available to use for infield parking at major events.
This is the second straight year that an Indiana native retiring as a NASCAR driver is getting special honors.
The town of Pittsboro, Jeff Gordon’s hometown, hosted a parade for the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion — and five-time winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — on Jeff Gordon Day a few days before last year’s Brickyard 400. The parade was sponsored by the speedway and was followed by a NASCAR hauler parade from Pittsboro to the track in Speedway.
Jim Lienhoop, mayor of Columbus, said he would like to honor Stewart when the driver makes an appearance July 11 during the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair.