Where there's Smoke, there's time for Speedway Children's Charities

08/15/2012 11:36 PM

08/16/2012 12:17 AM

Tony Stewart is about as close to the definition of a self-made man as there is in any profession or industry.

He matched his innate gifts with principles of a demanding work ethic and perseverance for whatever he lacked in capital.

"That was probably one of the great lessons I learned was to be resourceful," said Stewart, recalling his early days in the sport some 30 years ago when he began go-kart racing with his father and later in his career sleeping on the side of interstate highways because he didn't have money for a hotel.

"I learned to take what I had and make it work. When I got to the Cup level, I never forgot where I came from. I never forgot how we did things."

Stewart -- a three-time Sprint Cup champion including last year when he made the most improbable rise since Lazarus -- the humanitarian and philanthropist is every bit as engaged and tenacious as Stewart the competitor.

It's why he is faithfully on hand every year for the Smoke Show at Texas Motor Speedway, a driving school put on by Smoke himself as part of a fundraiser for Speedway Children's Charities.

"There's always going to be demands of our time," said Stewart, whose time is precious as part owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

"They could make 30-hour days and 400 days a year, but there would be more demands. This is a day that is important to us. We always set this aside every year. We raise a lot of money for children."

In four previous years, the Smoke Show has raised more than $810,000.

Campers are treated to a professional-style locker room with personalized firesuits and participate in pre- and post-race festivities. A Victory Lane celebration with the winner's trophy and revolvers was also planned, as was a ride with Smoke.

"The great thing is NASCAR fans thrive on information," Stewart said. "It really gives them an idea of what a race day is like and that's really cool for us to share that experience with them."

The atypical August storms of Wednesday morning postponed the schedule, but that was OK, Stewart said. It allowed the fantasy campers to see what NASCAR racers do during delays.

What Stewart is doing these days is gearing up for a run at a fourth Sprint Cup title. He sits in eighth place, behind Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.

Only Johnson and Keselowski have as many victories (3) as Smoke, who also has nine top-5 finishes. He believed he had a top-5 car last week at Watkins Glen before a spinout late in the race dropped him to 19th.

His position in the Chase is secure unlike a season ago when he didn't win a race until the first race of the Chase for the Championship in Chicagoland.

"It was like being in an episode of the Twilight Zone," Stewart said of his 2011. "I thought in the first 26 weeks I was going to have a Britney Spears moment where I was going to shave my head.

"It was just frustrating. We literally couldn't do anything right. I think last year we proved we could be on our face for 26 weeks and look like a show dog at the end."

There's no time to relax for anyone, including Stewart, who bought half of Gene Haas' organization in 2008.

Stewart said his and his team's focus on the track is searching for consistency.

On Wednesday, it was fantasy campers, including a soldier who has been deployed three times and is a single parent with two special needs children.

"To get a day like this and get away from everything and have fun, hopefully this is a day that will mean a lot to him," Stewart said. "I'm going to do everything I can to make sure he has a great day."

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