Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart talked business — the business of racing — with 18 members of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday at Martinsville Speedway.
Stewart’s career has evolved from a driver on the IndyCar series to a Sprint Cup champion in NASCAR; then a team owner with Stewart-Haas Racing; and a track owner and promoter.
“This is an awesome place to watch a race,” Stewart said in the track’s new Club 47 suite while looking out over the track. “We never get this good of a view. Normally, we’re sitting there mad at somebody for running into us from behind or we’re running into somebody in front of us because of it, but you’re not going to see more action anywhere other than this facility.
“This is still probably the one racetrack on the schedule that still has that grassroots feel. In a time when corporate America is becoming more involved, it’s easy to lose your history and your feel about a racetrack, and this is one place that has never done that. It’s got the perfect blend of both.”
Stewart understands that delicate balance, as he now is not only a track owner but also a race promoter.
At the end of the 2012 season, NASCAR announced its Camping World Truck Series would race July 24 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburgh, Ohio — at Stewart’s track. The race, which has been called the “Midsummer Classic,” will mark the series’ first race on dirt and the first time NASCAR has raced on dirt since 1970.
“You would think just running two weekends a year here (at Martinsville) or three weekends a year is a pretty easy deal,” Stewart said. “You’d think it doesn’t take much time and effort, but since we announced our truck race in December, we have been nonstop just preparing for that one race.”
Chamber members talked with Stewart about everything from checking accounts to attendance at races.
And Stewart, 41, put into perspective just how much the world of business has changed.
“The crazy thing is I can’t even fill out a check. The last time I was at (a) Barrett-Jackson (Automobile Auction) was the last time that I actually physically filled out a check, and I had to have somebody fill it out for me and then I signed it,” he said. “And I thought, it shows how crazy the times have changed.
“I haven’t seen a paycheck in over 10 years,” he added, referring to a paper check.
Of course, Stewart has found some success on the business side of auto racing.
Stewart said he’s not smart enough to micro-manage the roughly 200 employees of Stewart-Haas Racing and the other 60 employees who work with the 13 other corporations he either owns or partially owns. But he said he’s smart enough to hire the right people to do that for him.
He said he picked up that ability when he raced for Joe Gibbs before announcing his plans to become a driver and owner with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2008.
“(Gibbs) has been successful in everything that he’s done, and probably the one thing that I learned ... is he could take five resumes of five people who were applying for the same job, that had the same credentials and references and know which one of those people was going to be the right guy to fit with the organization,” Stewart said.
“You can have 10 people who are 100 percent perfect at the best they do and you’re only going to get 90 percent out of them if their personalities don’t match. But you can take 10 people who are 90 percent and put them together and get 100 percent if you have the right 10 people,” Stewart added.
Stewart was asked about the low attendance numbers at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Sunday in the latest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Stewart didn’t see it as directly related to the economy but thought the weather scared away walk-up ticket buyers.
“As a racetrack owner, that walk-up ticket sale is huge,” he said. “It’s nice to have those reserve seats sold through advanced sales, but there’s a lot of walk-up people who come at the last minute, especially at Martinsville and Bristol, and I think Richmond’s the same way.”
And Stewart told the members of the Chamber of Commerce he expects nothing but a robust crowd at the STP Gas Booster 500 on April 7 at Martinsville Speedway, adding that Virginia racing fans are some of the most passionate fans of the sport.
“I think you’ll have a great crowd here, especially when you come off of a deal like you did at Bristol,” Stewart said, referring to a driver altercation between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano that carried over onto Twitter after the race.
“You can have two guys that have a rivalry — I don’t care if they’re 30th and 35th in the points — you can have two guys that have a rivalry, and it’s going to help ticket sales when it comes time for the race,” Stewart said.