Brownstown Speedway has always been special to Stewart

BROWNSTOWN — Puttering around Brownstown Speedway’s dusty track on a pit bike, Tony Stewart feels most at home.

It’s no secret that his heart’s in dirt racing, and almost every moment he’s not on asphalt, you can find him at a local speedway.

Stewart went to work at Brownstown on Saturday night after practicing in the morning at Michigan International Speedway for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

The Columbus native worked with the officiating crew in the infield and around the pits for the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions winged sprint-car race before the pro late models and modifieds took the field.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

In 2015, Stewart purchased the series — one of the oldest traveling sprint-car organizations in the country, dating back to 1970.

He hoped to bring the sprint race to Brownstown last season, a track he typically visits at least once a year, but couldn’t due to prior commitments in the schedule.

“I’m partial to this place,” Stewart said of Brownstown Speedway. “I used to come here all the time. The one summer my dad and I quit racing, my buddy and I used to come here every Saturday night. That’s when Roger Williams promoted here. I ended up dating his niece because of being here. This place has always been cool to me. We wanted to get a date last year, but by the time I bought the All Stars, the schedules were pretty set.”

As soon as Stewart rolled in to the pit at Brownstown, the first thing he did was visit an old friend, Steve Barnett.

Stewart has sponsored Barnett for almost 18 years, and the two have been close friends since he was a teen.

Barnett, who has raced for 41 years, is in the track’s hall of fame.

“I’ve known Tony since he was about 17 or 18 years old,” said Barnett, who lives in Franklin. “Tony’s heart is in the dirt. He has always made that clear. Dirt is where his heart is. Asphalt is what has paid the bills. Tony has always given back to guys at the dirt tracks and hasn’t forgotten where he has come from. He has helped a lot of people along the way and done a lot for dirt racing.

“Any time he wants to drive my car, he knows he can come and tell me to get out of the seat and drive it. He’s a good friend, and we want to put him in a car every chance we get.”

Stewart said his fondest memory at Brownstown Speedway was winning in Barnett’s car, which was built by CJ Rayburn.

In 1998, Stewart won the Kenny Simpson Memorial race in Brownstown — a big feat for the now three-time NASCAR Cup champ.

“He has that (memorial) trophy right there with all the NASCAR trophies,” Barnett said.

One of the biggest draws to Brownstown for Stewart, aside from the track being in his home state, is the speedway’s layout.

“I like going to the tracks that don’t have walls around them,” Stewart said. “It makes it a lot easier if a guy has a problem. If they go over the bank, they go over the bank. But if they hit a wall and stay in play, someone else can run into them. It makes it a lot easier on equipment.”

Blake Anderson, the All Star series announcer and marketing manager, said the circuit likely will come back to Brownstown again in 2017.

Stewart, who is set to retire from NASCAR as a driver after the Ford EcoBoost 400 on Nov. 20, anticipates racing again at Brownstown when he’s done racing on asphalt.

“Yeah, I could see myself coming back,” Stewart said. “Next year, starting after they drop the checkered flag at (Homestead-Miami Speedway), I get to start doing whatever I want whenever I want again. I get to go have fun again.”