NASCAR champion Tony Stewart set to race at Huset's Speedway tonight
July 03. 2013 9:09AM
The World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series at Huset’s Speedway is typically the area’s biggest racing event of the season.
But tonight’s visit by the country’s top sprint car series has picked up speed with three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart joining the competition.
“This isn’t a big deal just because Tony Stewart is going to be here, but that he’s going to be here to race,” said Huset’s owner Steve Rubin. “Sometimes a sports celebrity will come to town just to meet people and sign autographs. But it’s rare when you get to see one of the greatest names in a sport come to your town and compete against some of the best competitors in the country.”
While today marks Stewart’s first racing visit to South Dakota, he no stranger to competing on dirt tracks recently. He’s already competed in dozens of dirt track events this year with a number of sanctioning bodies.
In 11 appearances with the World of Outlaws this season, he has seven top-10 finishes while placing in the top-five four times, with a best finish of third (twice). Last year, he won two Outlaws races. He began his career on the dirt tracks of his native state of Indiana. And while he had little experience racing open-wheel cars topped with wings before NASCAR, he has adapted well to those types of cars.
When asked recently why he chooses to spend so much time racing on dirt, Stewart said: “It’s just what I love to do. Some (NASCAR drivers) like to spend their free time hunting, fishing or playing golf. I don’t do any of those. I just like to go dirt-track racing.”
Seven-time Huset’s champion Terry McCarl appreciates Stewart’s racing skills and what he has done to promote the dirt-track scene.
“I think Tony Stewart is the ultimate racer,” said McCarl, who recently confirmed that Stewart will compete in the Front Row Challenge race McCarl promotes in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Aug. 5. “He can race any car, anytime, anywhere and win. To me, he’s the best overall driver there is.
“He has a great passion for the sport. He has the money to do anything he wants to (today), and his choice is to spend that night racing a sprint car in South Dakota. I can guarantee you he won’t be here just to put on a show. He’ll be here to win. We’re fortunate that we have him to help promote the sport.”
Stewart owns World of Outlaws racing teams with cars driven by Donny Schatz and Steve Kinser. He also owns three dirt tracks, including one of the premier tracks in the country, Eldora Speedway in Ohio.
Defending Huset’s Outlaws winner Mark Dobmeier has raced against Stewart before and welcomes the challenge again.
“When you get on the track, he’s just another tough competitor like the rest of the Outlaws,” he said. “I race everyone the way they race me, Tony included. While this is his first time at Huset’s, I think he’ll get the place figured out pretty quick. He usually does.”
Drawing a crowd
With Stewart drawing record crowds at dirt tracks where he’s competed, Rubin is anticipating possibly the largest crowd ever in the 60-year history of the track, which would likely be the largest attendance at an auto race in the state.
“We haven’t done a whole lot different for this than preparing for a regular Outlaws show,” said Rubin. “We did adjust the pit area (most cars will now pit inside the track) and we’ve been able to create about 300 to 400 more parking spots. Unfortunately, we can’t allow camping for the first time due to the space we need for parking.
“It’s difficult to determine what our seating capacity is. It would be easy if we had reserved seating, since you generally allow 18 inches a seat. But with general admission, it could be anywhere from 18 to 36 inches per seat. If they want, fans can watch the race from the infield for $5 more.”
Race for the top
There’s a new name atop the World of Outlaws points sheet coming into tonight’s race. Daryn Pittman has returned full-time to the tour for the first time since 2008 and has led the points for nearly the entire season.
Pittman had spent most of the last four seasons racing in Pennsylvania before being called upon to take the seat vacated by Joey Saldana at Kasey Kahne Racing during the offseason. He has five wins this year and leads the series with 25 top-five finishes.
“I’ve just been fortunate to drive for a great team that Kasey has established,” said the Oklahoma native, who now lives in Indiana. “We got off to a good start and we have great equipment that’s performed well.
“I’ve always liked Huset’s and I’m looking forward to racing there again,” Pittman added. “I’ll admit it’s been kind of a love/hate relationship there sometimes. I’ve finished in the top-five there several times and I’ve also torn up some equipment, like a lot of other guys have. It can be a pretty unforgiving place.”
Still, Pittman seems to be finding his groove entering tonight’s race.
“We struggled a little bit earlier this year on the shorter tracks like Huset’s, but I think we’ve made some progress with our program on those type of tracks lately,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a good race.”
Schatz in the hunt
Paul McMahan is another driver who didn’t race full-time with the World of Outlaws last year, and the Tennessee driver is currently second in points, 130 behind Pittman. Five-time and defending Outlaws champion Schatz leads the series in wins with seven and sits a close third in points, 141 back.
Teammates Craig Dollansky of Elk River, Minn., and Tennessee’s Sammy Swindell round out the top five, while 20-time World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser of Indiana currently sits ninth.
Dobmeier and McCarl are two Huset’s regulars who will be looking to add a second Huset’s World of Outlaws win to their resumes tonight.
Dobmeier won the race last year, while McCarl was victorious at the event in 2006. McCarl and his son, Austin, will have extra incentive for a top finish tonight as 212 The Boiling Point in Brandon will pay either of them a bonus of $5,000 for a top-three finish in the $10,000-to-win race.
While not competing with the Outlaws full-time this season, California’s Tim Kaeding is seen as a legitimate contender for the win tonight. Kaeding is second in Outlaws victories this year with six while running a partial schedule.
Two Sundays ago, he passed both Dobmeier and McCarl for the feature win at Huset’s.