Fairgrounds dirt-racing facility gets facelift; $40,000 project includes new fences for fan safety

When Tony Stewart returns to the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds track Monday, he’ll notice a few changes.

About $40,000 in improvements have been made to the track, which will host a tractor pull, three-quarter midgets and a mud bog at the fair. This year’s fair begins Friday and runs through July 16.

“It looks a lot different out there,” said Troy Foist, one of the fair board racing directors.

Foist, along with Rick Trimpe and Mike Wetzel, are directors of the track and take care of grandstand events for fair week. They oversaw a project that featured a new fence all the way around the track and a new catch fence that has been raised from 5 to 15 feet.

The old fence around the track was 15 years old and was dangerously low in the corners.

“That was one of the things we decided was a priority, and we bit the bullet and did it,” fair board president Larry Fisher said. “The other fence was getting a little old. We decided to get up with the times.”

59th annual fair set to open

The track also now has more significant banking. Fisher hopes that might help the fairgrounds land races beyond fair week.

“We thought with the improvements, we might get a little more racing going out here,” Fisher said. “Maybe when Tony retires, he’d like to have a little part in that.”

Although he does not plan to race, Stewart will sign autographs Monday at a time yet to be determined. The three-quarter midget event begins with hot laps at 6 p.m. and racing at 7 p.m. that night.

Stewart, a Columbus native and resident who is retiring from the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit as a driver at the end of this season, last raced a three-quarter midget at the fairgrounds in 2013.

“I can’t wait ’til next year, because next year, I’ll build a car, and I’ll go race myself,” Stewart said. “This year, if it’s a vehicle that has a number on it, I’m not allowed to touch it unless it has a Stewart-Haas Racing decal on it and came from North Carolina.”

The fairgrounds also will host the Lucas Oil Tractor Pull on Friday and a mud bog July 14.

“The grounds are probably the best that I have seen them in the 20 years that I have been on the fair board,” Fisher said. “We’re very proud of what we have.”

If you go

Tony Stewart will sign autographs for about an hour Monday at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair. The time has yet to be determined.

Stewart said he would sign just about anything except items with logos that conflict with his sponsors.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.