Tony Stewart revisits life-changing wreck one year later
The anniversary arrived Tuesday, and Tony Stewart went to Twitter to make mention of the night his sprint car — and his life — flipped upside down in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
It was one year ago when the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion appeared headed to a sprint-car victory in the Front Row Challenge with five laps remaining until a lapped car spun in front of him and kicked up a cloud of dust.
Stewart didn’t have enough time to dodge Josh Higday’s car that night, but he steered it just enough at the last instant to avoid the cockpit, potentially sparing Higday serious injuries. The collision sent Stewart’s car tumbling around Turn 4 at the Southern Iowa Speedway.
Stewart, who had been slated to drive in nearly 80 sprint car races last year as well as a full Cup schedule, broke both bones in his lower right leg.
In an instant, the season was over for the busiest man in racing.
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“When you love something like racing — whether it’s a dirt car or the Cup car — as much as I do, and you go from being the busiest guy in racing to all of a sudden being horizontal on the sheets and you can’t move every day, that’s a pretty big adjustment to your life for a while,” Stewart said Wednesday at the charity go-kart race he missed a year ago while recovering in a Des Moines hospital.
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The appearance by Stewart and fellow Cup stars Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson coincided with the first day of the 54th annual Knoxville Nationals.
Last month, in Stewart’s first open-wheel race in almost a year, Stewart won in a sprint car at the Tri-County Motor Speedway in Auburn, Mich.
Although Stewart’s wreck raised questions about whether full-time NASCAR stars with big sponsorship contracts should be moonlighting in sprint cars during the middle of the season, it also brought safety issues to the forefront.
Stewart compared his situation to the safety movement that occurred in NASCAR after Dale Earnhardt was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500. Stewart’s wreck prompted sprint car developers to work on torque tube tunnels and tether systems to enhance driver safety.
“The good thing is that it got enough attention to, I guess, get this movement started, and there’s a lot of people that are actively working on it right now,” he said last fall. “There’s going to be something that comes positive out of this negative of being hurt.”
Stewart went one step further. He reached out to Jay Masur, a South Dakota native who was one of the first responders at the track the night he was injured in Oskaloosa. Stewart purchased fire extinguishers, safety equipment and worked to find ways track responder crews could become more effective.
“It was a bad situation, and something negative happened, but a lot of positive things are going to happen because of it,” said sprint car driver and Front Row Challenge promoter Terry McCarl. “And it’s because Tony cares about our sport and dirt-track racing, and he’s made a conscious effort through Jay Masur to raise the bar on safety for all of us.”
Stewart said he plans to race maybe 10 more times this year in a sprint car. He intends to race again someday in Iowa.
“That’s my goal one day — to run the Knoxville Nationals,” he said. “A dream for me would be just to make the A-Main here. That would be cool.”