The Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds was a special place to be a week ago today. NASCAR star Tony Stewart returned to his hometown of Columbus to race.
Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion, competed in a Midwest TQ Racing League event July 9, drawing more than 3,000 spectators to the action.
While some fans were understandably disappointed that engine problems cut his night short in the feature event, the night wasn’t a disappointment overall.
Stewart’s presence made the event memorable. Some people who had raced against Stewart many years ago on dirt tracks came to watch the legend against whom they had competed. Some fans carried with them a pen and paper in hopes of getting his autograph. And for some racers who were competing, the opportunity to go wheel-to-wheel with Stewart was a memory they’ll never forget.
While Stewart’s participation in the racing event was special, it represented something more important: A genuine commitment to his hometown.
Stewart races at a lot of dirt tracks on off days from NASCAR duties. He could have picked any track to fill this hole in his schedule, but he chose to return to his hometown.
In the process, he helped the fair’s revenues. The racing event generated $18,739, of which $8,100 went to the fair.
Stewart has shown this commitment before.
Earlier this year he provided support for Race to Play, an initiative that raised more than $500,000 to rebuild the playgrounds at Ninth Street, Morningside, Mead Village and Pence Street parks in Columbus. On May 8, the city conducted a community celebration to unveil the new parks; Stewart and several other celebrities were in attendance.
Mead Village is the neighborhood in which Stewart was raised, so it had a special meaning to him.
But, so does Columbus — where he owns a home and returns to for important breaks from the grind of professional racing.
Residents here understand that and give him space when he returns. That was evident at the county fair, where he was allowed to enjoy the joys of the fair just like anybody else.
So, while Stewart’s return made for a memorable moment for fairgoers, it likely was a memorable time for Columbus’ famous son, too.