Tony Stewart is retired from racing stockcars, but he’s far from being finished on dirt tracks.
The Columbus native will be back in his hometown on Tuesday to compete in the Midwest TQ Association Three-Quarter Midget race at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds. It will be Stewart’s first time racing at the fair since 2013.
“I’ve owned TQs that have raced there for a long time now, but it was a unique opportunity to come back,” Stewart said. “I enjoyed going last year and watching my two cars race. Now that my schedule is opened up a little, it’s a neat opportunity to come back and run at the fair.”
The three-time NASCAR Cup champion did not finish the feature race in 2013. He had to drop out because of mechanical problems on the 13th of 25 laps.
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This year, Stewart’s friends, Jason Setser and Ronnie Combs, were building a TQ Midget for Stewart to drive. But since that car isn’t finished, Stewart will drive Setser’s car Tuesday.
Stewart has been racing on dirt tracks all year, but this will be his first time in a TQ Midget this season.
“Racing a TQ isn’t something that’s really on the radar until it comes fair time to race at Columbus,” Stewart said. “So to have the chance to do that is fun, but that’s kind of been my focus this year is just racing dirt as much as I can right now.”
Stewart grew up racing at the fairgrounds and other tracks around southern Indiana. Even after racing in front of 100,000 fans on the Sprint Cup circuit, it is still a thrill for him to come back and race here after accomplishing so much as a NASCAR driver.
“I don’t really think about it, I guess,” Stewart said. “It’s just an opportunity to come race back home, whether it’s in NASCAR or not. To come home and race at home is something I was looking forward to.”
And Stewart looks forward to being at his home in Columbus whenever he can. As a team owner, he still spends most of his weeks in Charlotte and weekends wherever NASCAR is racing.
This past weekend, that was in nearby Sparta, Kentucky, and next weekend (July 21 to 23), it’s in Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400. So chances are, he’ll be able to spend a little more time in Columbus.
“It’s great,” Stewart said. “Trust me, I love being home more than anywhere else. The hard part is that I’m probably busier right now than I was when I was a NASCAR driver. We’re busy with a lot of stuff that’s going on around my ranch, so it’s been a lot of work, but it’s been a lot of fun to actually be home and actually be there to be hands on with it.”
A big crowd is expected on Tuesday to watch Stewart. About 3,000 attended when he competed in 2013.
Fair board racing director Troy Foist said the grandstands hold about 2,500 to 3,000 people.
“It’s great when he comes to run in his hometown,” Foist said. “He’s a good crowd draw, and it’s good for everybody.”
What: Midwest TQ Association Three-Quarter Midget race
When: Tuesday (warmups at 6 p.m., racing at 7 p.m.)
Where: Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds
Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for kids, $5 for parking, $15 for a pit pass