Schoolchildren got right to the tough questions when they had the chance to quiz hometown hero and NASCAR champion Tony Stewart during his Race to Play events this week.
Why did he pick the number 14 for his car? Does he see racer Jeff Gordon as a rival? What does it feel like to be in a crash? And what is Stewart’s favorite kind of cake?
Through their foundations, Stewart, a Columbus native, and Jared Fogle, a Zionsville resident and the spokesman for Subway restaurants, helped raise more than $500,000 for four playground renovations and upgrades in the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.
On Wednesday, Stewart and Fogle met with about 150 parents and children at a convocation at Columbus North High School, with a message against childhood obesity.
After the convocation, Stewart and Fogle conducted a question-and-answer session with 21 of the 23 winners of a grade-school essay contest among Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. students.
The students and their families feasted on Subway sandwiches and peppered Stewart and Fogle with questions.
One student asked Stewart, “How does it feel being in a crash?”
“Not good,” the NASCAR driver replied, with a pause for the laughter of the crowd.
“Luckily, I have not broken a lot of bones. There are a lot of guys who have had a lot of broken bones in their careers. I have broken a couple of bones in my hands. I have broken my collarbone, my shoulder blade, the back of my hip. But that is about the worst of it. That is enough! This stuff was all in the same crash. We have been pretty lucky to not have too many bad crashes. You kind of cringe.”
Stewart was asked if he got to choose his 14 race car number and why he chose it.
“The guys that own the race cars go through NASCAR to pick the numbers, so the drivers don’t really get to choose the numbers,” Stewart said.
“Since I am an owner now, I got to pick the number on my car. ... The 14 was a popular number in Indy car racing for A.J. Foyt, who is my all-time hero. So when I had the opportunity as a car owner to pick a number for myself, we looked through the list that NASCAR had available, and that number was available. So I wanted to have it because it was my racing idol and my hero.”
Stewart and the crowd laughed when he was asked about his relationship with Gordon.
“He used to be one of my rivals,” Stewart said.
“Now we actually work together, because the company he races for is the company we get our engines from and our chassis from. A lot of times, even though we race against each other on the weekends, a lot of times after practices, we will talk about our cars together. So we used to be bitter rivals on the racetrack, now we work together. ... We are still trying to beat each other, but we work with each other a lot more than we used to.”
Fogle and Stewart were asked why they started their foundations.
Stewart said he did so to organize the work he was already trying to do with children. Fogle replied that he was trying to help children avoid the choices he made that led him to weigh more than 400 pounds.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids your age who are making poor eating choices all the time and not exercising at all. And if that is the case, you could end up on the same road I went down. I started the Jared Foundation to try to make sure we dealt with that and got you guys on the right track.”
Fogle was asked why he decided to work for Subway. As a student at Indiana University in Bloomington, he lived in an apartment that shared a wall with a Subway restaurant. He was looking for a way to lose weight and realized that he could put together a weight-loss plan by eating the right meals at Subway twice a day. He lost 245 pounds on his plan.
He said the company approached him after his personal story made it into the Indiana Daily Student newspaper. He is celebrating his 15th year as spokesman for the company.
“My parents still ask when I am going to get a real job,” Fogle said.
“Mine do, too,” Stewart interjected.
And for the big question, Stewart avowed his love for chocolate cake.
“Small amounts of chocolate cake,” he stressed.