KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (Sept. 2, 2015) – Great racecar drivers stand out, and more often than not, they’ve rocked the boat from time-to-time while climbing the racing ladder. Tony Stewart is no exception, and he’ll continue to rock the boat this weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway during the 66th annual Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
As part of Darlington’s The Tradition Returns weekend, Stewart’s No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS is sporting a throwback paint scheme commemorating the original Tracker Boat from Bass Pro Shops – the Bass Tracker. Introduced in 1978, the Bass Tracker was the first boat, motor and trailer package designed specifically for anglers, and it has remained America’s No. 1 selling fishing boat for more than 36 years.
Stewart is looking to be No. 1 Sunday night when the checkered flag drops at Darlington. The three-time Sprint Cup champion and owner of 48 career Sprint Cup victories is winless at Darlington. In fact, the 1.366-mile oval is one of only two active Sprint Cup venues where Stewart hasn’t won, the other being Kentucky Speedway in Sparta which only came on the Sprint Cup scene in 2011.
A win would also vault Stewart from his 26th-place standing in points to that of championship contender by making him a member of the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Talk about rocking the boat.
Darlington is an appropriate venue for boat-rocking. After all, it was Harold Brasington who in 1949 plowed up a parcel of land that once grew peanuts and cotton to build a one-and-a-quarter-mile oval. After locals derided the project as “Harold’s Folly,” Brasington countered the best way possible when 75 stock cars took the green flag three-wide in the inaugural Southern 500 on Sept. 4, 1950. Brasington rocked the boat, but not the nearby minnow pond that still exists off turn four of the track’s egg-shaped contours. Sherman Ramsey, the man who sold Brasington the property for his racetrack, didn’t want his minnow pond disturbed, and Brasington obliged.
That is the first of many stories originating from NASCAR’s first superspeedway, as the iconic venue has proven to be a cornerstone of NASCAR history.
Stewart, in his 17th year as a driver in the Sprint Cup Series, is well aware of Darlington’s history and its list of winners, particularly those who won and set the stage for NASCAR’s rise to mainstream prominence. Inaugural Southern 500 winner Johnny Mantz and multi-time Darlington victors David Person, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon being some of the most notable.
Stewart would like nothing more than to add his name to that list and pick up his first Sprint Cup victory at Darlington and his first since winning at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on June 2, 2013. By rocking the boat at Darlington, Stewart would ensure a rocking victory lane.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about the special throwback paint scheme you have on your Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet this weekend at Darlington.
“I enjoy anything that’s retro or goes along with the history of the sport. The car we’re running is the original Tracker Boat paint scheme, which is pretty important to Bass Pro Shops’ history. And I’m just as excited about the uniform I get to wear because it’s old-school looking. That’s what’s making this weekend so cool is there are so many throwback paint schemes coming out. It makes a special race weekend even more special.”
What has been your most memorable Darlington race?
“Races at Darlington have been pretty tough for me, personally. We’ve had some decent runs there but it just seems like you really have to put everything together the whole day. I guess if I had to think back to the history of the track it was probably the day Bill Elliott won the ‘Million’ and how big that was for the sport at the time.”
Why is a win at Darlington a feather in any driver’s cap?
“A lot of it has to do with the history of the track. If you can say you won a race at Darlington – that’s a feather in your cap. That’s something to be proud of, knowing that you’re in a group of drivers with names like Pearson and Petty – the pioneers of our sport who you hear stories about the races they ran there and the races they won there.
“Darlington is such a tough track to get a handle on and to be good at all day. You don’t see a lot of guys who have a lot of success there. You see only a handful of guys who religiously run well there. That just shows you how difficult Darlington is to get a handle on. If you can have a good day and win there, it’s a track that’s like winning at Bristol. It’s the same type of feeling – knowing that you conquered something that’s very hard to obtain.”
Darlington is known as a track where beating and banging happens, maybe not so much between competitors, but certainly between competitors and the wall. Does aerodynamics play a role at Darlington and, if so, how important is it to keep a straight racecar?
“Aerodynamics plays a role everywhere we go nowadays. Martinsville might be the only track where aerodynamics doesn’t really play a role anymore. So even at a place like Darlington, you’ve got to make sure you keep the fenders straight because you need every bit of downforce you can get.”
It may not be in Sprint Cup, but you have won at Darlington. Even though it was a NASCAR Xfinity Series race in 2008, how did it feel to finally win for the first time there?
“With the rich heritage and history at Darlington – to win there and be the first guy to win after they resurfaced it – it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe. It’s just cool to win at Darlington. You think back to guys like David Pearson who were so good there. This series is just so deep in history, and this is one of those tracks where the history goes as deep as NASCAR does. To finally get a win at Darlington was a huge honor for me.”
Does that win help in any way for what you want to accomplish when you return for this weekend’s Southern 500?
“It doesn’t hurt. Just because you won in an Xfinity Series car doesn’t guarantee success in the Cup car. We still have to go out and do our job on the Cup side. The cars drive totally different. But I think that, as much as anything, it gives you confidence.”
Coming from an open-wheel background, was Darlington a place that even open-wheel guys had respect for simply because of the track’s history?
“Absolutely. As much as we know about the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I think people underestimate how much we know about Darlington and the history of that track, and how hard it is to win races there. I guess that’s why a Sprint Cup win at Darlington is something that’s really important to me.”