Shane Stewart’s story a good lesson in sprint car perseverance

Shane Stewart following his victory on Saturday at the Kings Royal. (Bill Miller Photo)
Shane Stewart following his victory on Saturday at the Kings Royal. (Bill Miller Photo)
Shane Stewart following his victory on Saturday at the Kings Royal. (Bill Miller Photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

Early Sunday morning Shane Stewart was enjoying the spoils of winning the 32nd Annual Kings Royal, having a top flight ride with Larson/Marks racing. Stewart is having a good season with the World of Outlaws that has him second in the point standings to Donny Schatz. While Stewart is on top right now it hasn’t always been that way.

At one point once Stewart left Oklahoma and hit the road trying to make it as a professional sprint car driver he went through some of the same performance struggles a lot of young drivers have when they get out on the road. At one point ride less during the 2001 season Stewart took a suggestion from fellow Oklahoma resident Andy Hillenburg to spin wrenches on his car to keep Stewart’s name and face out in sight and mind of car owners on the road. Eventually that led to a driving gig. It’s hard to tell how many young drivers would do such a thing now, but that is how badly Stewart wanted to find something to drive at that time.

For a while Stewart got label of “360 guy” while racing the ASCS series with Paul Silva. Even standout performances at the Knoxville Nationals didn’t seem to erase that label, as Stewart and Silva races where the sponsorship dictated. Once sponsorship for that program dried up Stewart did several things to stay racing at a full time level including extended stays in Australia and arranging schedules with multiple teams throughout the country. While the rides Stewart had were top flight equipment, it was the equivalent of us trying to hold down four or five part time jobs to make a living.

Even though it was difficult juggling those rides, they were solid enough that Stewart could wait for the right opportunity for a single full time ride. Stewart seemed to thrive in that situation and developed good working and professional relationships with the car owners involved in his various rides. Towards the end of the 2013 season Stewart had a collection of really good teams that were putting competitive cars out for him all over the country with limited schedules along with some full time offers, proving its often easier to find a job when you already have one. Stewart became the most in demand free agent in sprint car racing.

The decision to go to Larson/Marks though turned out to be the right opportunity. Stewart is back on Sprint Car racing’s biggest stage with one of the most high profile rides. While driving for one of the teams owned by a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver has added pressure, Stewart seems to handle it in stride. Taking last year to run a limited schedule allowed Larson/Marks to build up their program properly without trying to tackle the daunting World of Outlaws schedule during their first year along with Stewart to gradually exit from his various rides.

Getting to know Stewart while touring with the All Stars, Gumout Series, World of Outlaws, ASCS and even occasionally wrenching on a a car or two. I was able to witness him compete frequently once he started to drive for Tim Norman and Joe Gaerte’s race team it was clear not only how mature he had become going about his business but also how he had refined what he did behind the wheel.

Sprint Car racing has a large group of young drivers now that may not be in ideal situations. I found myself wondering how many of those drivers would go to the extremes Stewart had to do for keeping his name out there. It’s a good lesson a lot of younger drivers that may not find success immediately can learn from and use as a beacon to hopefully stick things out until they get an opportunity.

Kings Royal Notes

  • By winning both the Friday and Saturday portions of the Kings Royal Stewart became the third driver to sweep the Kings Royal weekend features. Jac Haudenschild accomplished this in 1994 and 1998 while Steve Kinser won both races in 2003. The win was also the first for Australia’s Cool Chassis.
  • Getting the Saturday portion of the program in was northing short of remarkable. Hats off to the Eldora Speedway staff for not only getting the program in on Saturday after a torrential downpour but getting Friday in as well after a week filled with rain and soft grounds. The Eldora track crew was able to get the track solidified for Saturday’s rain, producing a fast but wide surface following the rain on Saturday.
  • JoJo Helberg made his first start at Eldora Speedway memorable by putting his car into the Kings Royal A-Main on Saturday night. The Winchester Speedway track record holder starting assembling a new J&J Chassis in California on Tuesday before traveling cross country to Eldora. Unfortunately Helberg’s Kings Royal run ended in the first corner in a vicious crash that likely destroyed his new car.
  • One of the more eye opening moves of the night was Sammy Swindell’s slide job of Dustin Daggett for the final transfer spot in the fourth heat race. Swindell’s high speed dive under Daggett made everyone collectively in the press box let out an audible “whoa”. The move put Swindell into the feature where he moved up into a top five finish.
  • Daggett had one of the busier nights of any driver at the Kings Royal on Saturday having to run both the World of Outlaws and NRA programs including B and A-Mains for both classes. Daggett is slated to do double duty again on Friday when the UNOH All Star Circuit of Champions and Engine Pro Sprints on Dirt presented by ARP series compete at Hartford Speedway.
  • Sheldon Haudenschild’s crash on Friday forced Bonzi Bruns and crew to drive four hours back to Wooster to put together a new car. Bruns indicated the second car still had quite a bit of work that needed to be done to it, giving the team only about three hours sleep before heading back to Eldora.
  • Even with Saturday’s storms the track widened out more than it did during Friday’s program. World of Outlaws and NRA feature winners Stewart and Butch Schroeder had different views of the narrower track on Friday that Stewart called “Brutal” and Schroeder referred to as “awesome”. Both drivers were quick to compliment the track crew for even getting the race in.
  • Eldora Speedway might be the best fit for everything Rico Abreu does well in a sprint car. Abreu worked his way up to a podium finish during Saturday’s Kings Royal after racing a K&N NASCAR East event at Loudon, NH on Friday. Abreu was sporting a helmet with the likeness of Earl Baltes on it.