SPEEDWAY — It hasn’t yet been a year since he retired, but Tony Stewart couldn’t resist the allure to get back behind the wheel of a racecar.
Rest assured, he didn’t compete, but rather went out for a nice Sunday drive.
Stewart, 46, took a legendary racer’s famous car out for a spin prior to the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.
The three-time NASCAR champion drove the Bowes Seal Fast roadster, made famous by A.J. Foyt, who drove it to the first of his four Indianapolis 500 wins in 1961.
“That was pretty damn cool,” said Stewart, who hadn’t been back to the Indy 500 since his racing double (Indianapolis 500 & NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600) back in 2001.
Stewart was joined by former Indy 500 champions Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser Jr. and Kenny Brack, who drove other A.J. Foyt cars on the track during the Historic Race Car Laps, prior to the race.
“That was without a doubt, the undisputed coolest day of my life,” Stewart said. “The coolest moment was to be leading that deal and looking at A.J. A.J. never looked forward the whole time. He was looking backwards at his cars. (A.J.) is getting soft in his old age, but the best part was, he was enjoying the moment, and that made my heart happy.”
Foyt started on the inside of the third row (seventh) in that race. The car was a Trevis chassis with an Offenhauser engine and was owned by Bignotti-Bowes Racing Associates.
Foyt had a great duel with Eddie Sachs, leading eight times for 71 laps, but it was the last three that helped cement Foyt’s legend. He overtook Sachs on Lap 198 and held the lead from his rival for the final three laps to win.
Foyt won a cool (for the time) $117,975 and averaged 139.130 mph.
Stewart didn’t quite hit that speed, but he wasn’t driving like he was stuck in commuter traffic.
“I look over, and Johnny Rutherford is beside me,” Stewart said. “To be driving my all-time hero’s car is so cool. That’s moments you don’t get very often.”
While Stewart is retired as a NASCAR driver, he’s just as busy as ever in the racing business with ownership of various open-wheel short track racing cars like midgets and sprints and dirt track super late models. He also has ownership of Eldora Speedway in Ohio and tracks in Illinois and Kentucky.
Stewart also is part owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, which includes former Indy 500 entrant Danica Patrick, and he’s busy with the Tony Stewart Foundation, which raises and donates funds to help care for chronically ill children and other charitable organizations.
“Part of the fun of being retired from NASCAR is you actually get to do stuff outside of NASCAR,” Stewart said. “We’re having fun with the whole day.”