Tony Stewart won’t be making a repeat appearance at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair this year.
Stewart’s public relations director, Mike Arning, confirmed late Tuesday night that Stewart is returning from a trip overseas and won’t be in the state of Indiana today. That means he won’t be racing in tonight’s TQ Midget event.
Arning’s announcement ends days of speculation about whether the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion would return to his hometown. Fair board president Larry Fisher said earlier this week that he had heard people close to Stewart say he was coming.
Arning, said last week that nothing was on Stewart’s calendar for today, but that he has a commercial shoot scheduled for Thursday in Charlotte and didn’t think he would be in Indiana the night before.
Last year, Stewart announced he would compete at the fairgrounds, and about 2,500 fans packed the main grandstand. He was running in fifth place midway through the 25-lap feature when he was forced out because of a broken coil.
“Tony has always been good about coming to the fair,” Fisher said. “I don’t think there’s been too many years that he’s missed.
“That’s always a draw, and it’s even better if he races,” he said. “But a lot of times, we don’t know that until he gets here. There’s always a car for him if he wants to run.”
Stewart raced last year in a car owned by his friend, Ron Combs. Another friend of Combs, Jon Steed of Milroy, said Combs told him Stewart is still recovering from a broken leg that sidelined him for the end of last year’s Sprint Cup season.
“(Combs) said Tony still has a lack of feeling in his leg,” Steed said. “That takes a big toll in racing because you have to have that feel in racing with the pedal and throttle controls. Especially on pavement, you have to be really smooth.”
Steed, 22, raced against Stewart last year at the fairgrounds.
“I talked to him at the Rumble in Fort Wayne this winter and asked him if he was going to do it again, and at that point, he wasn’t sure,” Steed said. “I saw on Twitter where he had gotten back in a sprint car. A lot of people are making a big deal about it, but that’s just because he’s such an icon.”
Matt Arrington, 32, remembers the 2000 fair race. Arrington, who sits fifth in the Midwest TQ League point standings, was an 18-year-old kid when he claimed victory over Stewart.
“I didn’t get to race a whole lot wheel to wheel with him, but it wasn’t the first time I raced with him,” Arrington said. “That was one of the highlights. Columbus is my home track. I have a lot of wins on that track, but that’s my only TQ one.
“Anytime you get to race against your childhood hero, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “Tony is definitely that. Last year, I got to talk to him a little bit, and it’s always great to see him.”
Troy Foist, who is on the fair’s grandstand committee and is in charge of racing at the fair, was glad to see Stewart race last year.
“It was a great year last year,” Foist said. “It was nice to see Tony come out and support the hometown fair. The grandstands were full. He came out and talked to the fans. He’s just a first-class guy.”