It’s time for the “Tony Stewart in Dover” blog …. a topic I’ve agonized over, since last Friday. As many of you know, we spent the weekend at the “Monster Mile,” covering all the action from Friday’s practice to the delayed race start/finish, yesterday. Essentially, I witnessed an incident of Tony Stewart disrespecting fans and media in the garage area. I’ve bounced the incident off many in the biz and I’ve come to this conclusion …. the TRUTH will stand on it’s own merit.
To paint a vivid picture for you …. there is one distinct path leading from the motorcoach lot (drivers/owners reside here for the weekend) to the garage area, where respective racecars are housed and serviced. To access the garage area and get to their cars, the drivers must walk this same path and down the same flight of stairs. Thus, fans and media (with “hot passes” and “cold passes”) gather in this corridor for a glimpse of the stars of this sport.
Sure, the fans want autographs and the media are merely looking for a quick photo opportunity or comment. I observed virtually every Nextel Cup driver make this walk and most were gracious in reaction to those who awaited them. However, there was a clear exception, and you know who it was …. Mr. Stewart, himself. You know, the guy who’s supposedly changed and grown up over the past few years. Yeah …. don’t buy that product – when the PR machine he dictates is not in gear.
As Stewart walked down the stairs, there were about ten people, at most, awaiting his arrival. As he reached the bottom step, he turned to a companion and stated, “these people with hot passes are ALL (expletive).” As for the term used …. we all have one, including Tony. He proceeded to wisk past everyone, in a quick walking-paced version of Rickey Henderson from first to second base. Yes, he jotted an occasional autograph …. but, never looked at what he signed and he didn’t acknowledge anyone.
To understand my issue with Stewart, you’ll need to know a bit about “hot and cold passes”. A “hot pass” permits the holder to enter the garage area, while the teams are actively practicing or performing. A “cold pass” enables the holder to enter the garage area during dormant periods – however they can occupy bordering areas (such as the path from the coaches to the garage) at all times.
I wasn’t surprised, at all, by Stewart’s antics. I’ve followed NASCAR, in a devout sense, for the better part of fifteen years. Thus, I know his “worn out/tired” act pretty well, albeit, mostly from an outsider’s perspective. I’ve never bought his brash, bluntly honest persona. He’s a guy who does what he wants, when he wants …. and is rarely held accountable for his actions.
I absorbed this incident and tried to digest it. However, it just resurfaced whenever the opportunity arose. In an attempt to better understand the spirit of Stewart’s actions, I carried my plea to the very people who’ve enabled him to behave like this for years …. and I mean years. On Saturday morning, I related the incident to some veteran race reporters. I understood their reaction and response …. to a point.
The views I encountered primarily excused Stewart’s actions as “Tony being Tony.” Sorry, but that’s not good enough. On a daily basis, we see Barry Bonds admonished for just being “Barry.” WNST’s, Casey Willett, has certainly and rightfully taken issue with Erik Bedard for just being “Erik.” So, why does Tony Stewart always get a pass …. from the very media covering him? He dictates the “where, when, why and how” of media encounters and they’re happy to oblige him.
Honestly, I think many members of racing media are scared of Stewart. Perhaps, they’re worried about being accosted by him, if a negative word is written or uttered. Trust me, I have no reservation in assuming he’d seek out anyone he knows, if they’ve reported something he doesn’t like. I wonder if reporters in New York would give Alex Rodriguez a pass on this type of incident, or how about Boston writers and Tom Brady? I sincerely doubt it.
One veteran media member actually defended Stewart’s actions. She said his common response to a “hot pass” holder would usually be “do I come into your office and tap dance on your desk, while you’re trying to work?” The obvious answer to this hypothetical question is “no” …. but it runs deeper than that. Bare with me – I’ll explain. ….
The NASCAR garage area is NOT Tony Stewart’s desk !!!! It can be argued that it’s the halls, lobby, foyer …. whatever. But, it’s not his personal workspace. It’s accessible and open to everyone – with credentials. This is NASCAR’S call, just as every corporation or entity decides who visits the grounds. This is the way it is …. but, a spoiled athlete, accustomed to exercising his sense of entitlement is gonna see things differently …. much differently.
Tony Stewart and every other competitor deserves some private workspace and NASCAR ensures it. That sacred area is located within their respective garage stall, hauler or car’s cockpit. Mr. Stewart or anyone else who feels inconvenienced shouldn’t informally police the area accessible to anyone deemed “reputable” by NASCAR. Doing so, would greatly hinder the exposure of the sport …. why do you think it exists?
Here’s the deal …. Tony Stewart will not be reading my blog. Nor, will he change his ways. In some selfishly twisted way, he’s living a life that he’s comfortable with. Good for him. But, someday, the wins are gonna dwindle. He’ll age, gain even more weight and struggle to compete. The same crowds will then run to someone else when he’s approaching that garage area. Maybe, he’d be completely happy with such circumstances.
I just don’t understand why someone needs to treat people badly. There were 40+ guys who made that same walk, last Friday. Most of them probably felt as uncomfortable as Stewart. However, they chose to put the feelings of others (including fans, media, sponsors or NASCAR) ahead of their own. Tony Stewart is not incapable of doing this …. he’s merely unwilling. There’s a distinct difference between “can’t and won’t.”
I’ll leave you with this …. many of us will be going to work today; if you get to the office and find your bosses have invited a throng of visitors and they make you uncomfortable, will you be polite or will you admonish them with vulgar comments? You’ll do whatever you can get away with.
By the way, Tony Stewart is hosting a “pay per view” racing event for the “Victory Junction Gang” tomorrow night. This charity is one of the most worthwhile endeavors in the world. I’ll certainly support them. However, this “expletive” will mail them a check, personally. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not incapable of watching Mr. Stewart’s event, I’m just unwilling.