Logging Laps: The Final Lap

by Robert Riddle On Mon, Jul. 25, 2016

Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

Sunday, July 24, 2016; after a long, hot day in the middle of summer, at a track so revered that there are no words to describe it, two legends of auto racing ad-libbed a moment that will live on in the minds of race fans forever. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, side by side, waving to the crowd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway one final time.

It was a moment that held immense meaning. Between these two men, it showed so much respect. For the racing fans of Indiana, we got to wave goodbye to our favorite son.

Tony Stewart is a living legend. Tony Stewart is a racer. Tony Stewart is a champion. Watching his final race Sunday and seeing the crowd standing on their feet on a brutally hot summer day, clapping, waving, swinging towels and cheering, finally drove home the one thing I’ve been avoiding talking about this entire year. Tony Stewart is retiring from NASCAR and he’s going to be missed. Terribly.

There hasn’t been a man in NASCAR like Stewart since Dale Earnhardt Sr. A man that spoke his mind, damn the consequences. Love him or hate him, what you saw was the man in his truest form. Never one to shy away from a comment or controversy, Stewart was and is the polar opposite of the man that drove beside him on that final lap, Jeff Gordon. Their mutual respect, built over the years through fierce competition and even some fights, was both brilliant and heart-wrenching to see on Sunday.

There are endless stories about the man called Smoke. Many thousands of which most people will never know. He’s helped people he’s never met get food for their kids. He’s helped drivers, fans, friends, and everyone in between reach and achieve their goals. Most of these stories are kept quiet because Stewart likes it that way. What he’s done on the race tracks all around the world pales in comparison to the countless lives this man has touched in some way, shape, or form. From a local dirt track here in Indiana, all the way to Australia and back, the stories and memories are unfathomable to behold.

That’s what made the final lap on Sunday all the more emotional. Tony is our Champion. He’s from Indiana, born and raised. He fought and clawed his way up the racing ladder by sheer will and determination. He’s a blue collar worker that gave his entire life to the sport he loves. He’s been praised and punished for his actions; heralded as the greatest thing since A.J. Foyt and then beaten down by the media for being exactly like him. Through it all, from the early years of Karting, into USAC, IndyCar, and finally NASCAR, the man has built his reputation on two things: Immeasurable driving talent and deadpan honesty. All of these values are what we Hoosiers hold dear. It’s how we are raised. It’s what we are as a people and a state.

Our Champion said goodbye on Sunday. He gave us one final lap for the fans and friends that know him best and cherish him unconditionally. Thank you, Rocket. From everyone in Indiana, that has watched your career with pride and joy. From all of us that your words and actions touched, we can never say thank you enough.

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  1. Karen J. Raufeisen says:

    A moment to treasure! It was awesome to see Smoke & Jeff Gordon drive around the track side by side! Then the hug afterwards!

  2. Springwolf says:

    As a Stewart fan, I always want more stories like this about the good things Tony does for the Racing communities around the world. I think those things he does that some how sneak out through other sources show the kind of man he really is.

    Like the 2013 Kyle Larson Daytona Crash into the fence where several fans were hurt and taken to the hospital. Tony won that race. The first thing we saw him do was ask about the fans. Then he kept his winning celebration very low key out of respect for those who were hurt. It wasn’t until months later we found out Tony went to the hospital and visited with every fan who was injured. And it wasn’t an in and out, I’m sorry you were hurt. He sat with everyone for as long as they welcomed him. That’s class.

    In August 2015, Indy Car driver Justin Wilson was seriously injured during a race at Pocono. The accident left Wilson in a coma with a head injury in serious condition. Tony didn’t hesitate to do what he could to help. He donated his plane to Wilson’s family so they could get to Pocono and be with Justin at the hospital. “The only reason his generosity Sunday became known was due to several IndyCar drivers and personalities tweeting their appreciation for Stewart’s kindness.” wrote Jordan Bianchi. It got out quick and spread through the racing community like wild fire. #ClassAct

    On Feb. 21, 2015 Kyle Busch crashed at Daytona International Speedway, breaking both his legs. His first visitor was Tony. But we didn’t find out about that until July 2015 when the news got out through Kyle himself.

    He really is the “People’s Champion”, because he really is like us.
    Great tribute Robert! Thank you for helping all us Smoke fans tell him what he has and will continue to mean to us.

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