Even during the days when his relationship with reporters was at low ebb, Tony Stewart would gladly talk about Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And as he did so, the special reverence he has for the track could easily be heard.
Stewart, even at his gruffest, glowed when he talked about Indy.
Such is the power of the track, especially for racers from Indiana.
A couple of days before the 2005 Brickyard 400, Stewart was asked about the track that is located just up the road from his hometown of Columbus. He said, ”Any kid who has ever grown up in Indiana knows what Indianapolis Motor Speedway means. It is definitely my biggest race of the year. It always has been, it probably always will be.“
Every race car driver in the world knows about Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They know its layout, its traditions, its history and its personalities. Many dream about driving there someday. Those who do get there dream about coming back.
After winning the United States Grand Prix at Indy, seven-time world champion German Michael Schumacher said, ”To win in Indy is, in a way, special because it has a lot of reputation and a history.“
But while Indy is special for icons of the sport, it is extra special for Hoosiers — even racing in stock cars in July.
”It is truly an honor to get to race where so many incredible drivers have raced and won,“ said Ryan Newman, a native of South Bend, Ind., and a Purdue graduate. ”The track is especially special to me because it is in my home state.“
Stewart's stories about the speedway involve things like driving past it when he worked as a tow-truck driver and straining to see the track through the grandstands.
Newman said his memories were from even earlier.
”I can remember I was down in Indianapolis when it first opened for open (Sprint Cup) testing,“ Newman said. ”I think Earnhardt Sr. was the first guy to actually go there and test, but I think the first open test they had my mom and I were down there doing some things involved with my racing, and we heard them over at the track. So we went over to the track and walked right into the garage area. It was neat to actually walk right out on to pit road at an open test for NASCAR at the Brickyard. That for me was a very memorable moment.“
Jeff Gordon was born in California, but his family moved to Pittsboro, Ind., just so teenager Gordon could be around racing and the speedway.
”Every time you go around there,“ Gordon said, ”there is just something about it that gets you fired up.“
Love, however, comes with pitfalls. For Stewart, it came with six years of intense pressure. In 2005, Stewart got his first victory at Indy in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
Mixed with the joy he felt as he planted his lips to that 3-foot section of bricks that serves as the finish line was relief. Stewart not only wanted to win at Indy, he had to.
”I think the first year it was more of just a huge weight lifted off our shoulders that we accomplished a lifelong dream of ours,“ Stewart said.
The enjoyment came last year when he won his second Brickyard.
”I think last year it was a chance that we really got to enjoy it with our team,“ Stewart said. ”And you know, we were really able to enjoy the win that night versus just the emotional drain of just finally accomplishing a goal like it was the first time around.“
Newman has yet to win at Indy, but that doesn't mean he's not excited this week.
”I've been close to winning a pole there, and I have had some good runs there,“ Newman said. ”But Indianapolis is a track that has bit us in the past. Despite that, I look forward to going back there.“
Gordon has won four times at Indy. But that doesn't mean Indy has become just another race on the schedule for Gordon. He said that he is ”fired up“ to get No. 5.
And fired up in a way that only Indiana drivers can get fired up at the speedway.