After a little more than an hour of signing items and posing for photos with his fans Monday at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, Tony Stewart pulled out his cellphone to get a picture of his own.

Stan Durnal had brought his Columbus High School Log yearbook from 1971, his freshman year of high school and the year Stewart was born.

In that yearbook was a story about Stewart’s father Nelson, who was an auto mechanics teacher at Columbus. Nelson Stewart was recovering from being badly burned while saving a motorist from a burning car on U.S. 31.

As Durnal presented the 45-year-old yearbook to Tony Stewart and told him that Nelson was one of his teachers, the younger Stewart snapped a couple photos of the page, which included a photo of Nelson and Stewart’s mother, Pam, and said he was going to forward a copy to them.

Story continues below gallery

That yearbook was only one of the hundreds of items that Tony Stewart signed in about an hour and 45 minutes at the fairgrounds track on Monday. The Columbus native was in town after finishing fifth Saturday night in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sparta, Kentucky.

Marilyn Wente brought a model car, which she bought at her place of employment, at Cracker Barrel in Seymour. The car had a No. 4 on it, so Stewart drew a “1” in front of the “4” to resemble Stewart’s No. 14.

“Isn’t that cute,” Wente said. “I’m so excited.”

Joel Williams of Columbus had one of the larger items for Stewart to sign. Williams had a dented fender well from one of the cars Stewart had driven that he had bought for $250 at Stewart’s race shop in Charlotte.

“It was between this or a windshield or one of his hoods, and I decided I wanted this,” Williams said.

Marvin Smith, a Columbus native who now lives in Nineveh, and Susan Spurgeon of Columbus were among first in line to see Stewart. They had been waiting outside the grandstand area since 4 p.m. for the autograph session, which began at 5 p.m.

Smith had a photo of Stewart from when in Stewart was in his 20s that he bought at an estate auction about 10 years ago. Spurgeon of Columbus had a model 18-wheeler with Stewart’s No. 14 logo.

Lane Wetzel, 5, was the first to have something signed inside the track. That was a SHR hat, standing for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Herbie Hissong of Seymour had a large Stewart poster that a teacher at St. John Sauers had given him when he was in fourth grade. Hissong recently graduated from Trinity Lutheran and is headed to Rose-Hulman.

“I’m not usually the most excitable person, but it was an experience,” Hissong said.

Miranda Ryle of Greensburg, who wore the “Miss Let’s Go Racing” sash, sold raffle tickets to fans who came by the table to have something signed. Proceeds benefit the Tony Stewart Foundation.

Late in Stewart’s signing session, Gov. Mike Pence, a fellow Columbus native and potential running mate of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, stopped by to say hello.

“This is home,” Stewart said. “Some people I haven’t seen for 20 years, and some people I saw five days ago. It’s fun to do this for them. It’s fun to come home. A lot of people don’t get a chance to be where we’re at where we’re doing autograph signings, so it was nice to be able to do that. That was something I really wanted to do, so to be able to come here and do that for them, that was a lot of fun.”

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