Stewart appeared to be taking an old-school route to the top of U.S. open-wheel racing in the 1990s, winning the USAC National Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown titles in 1995 and joining the Menard team for the newly created Indy Racing League in 1996. After scoring a second place on his debut in 1996, Stewart won the ’96/’97 championship, and finished third the following season.
His last Indy 500 came in 2001, driving a Chip Ganassi Racing entry to sixth place, but by then Stewart’s main focus was on his meteoric NASCAR Cup career. He won the championship in 2002, ’05 and ’11 and retired from the series in 2016 with 49 wins to his name.
Stewart, who turns 50 this month, will be present at Indy to help Foyt celebrate the 60th anniversary of his first win at the 500.
“A.J. is my hero, and a great friend whom I’ve known for a long time,” said Stewart [pictured above with Foyt at Texas Motor Speedway in 2008]. “It didn’t matter what it was, but if it had four wheels and went fast, A.J. would drive it. NASCAR stock cars, USAC stock cars, sprints and midgets, Indy cars, IMSA sports cars – A.J. won in all of them. We both kind of came up through the racing ranks in the same way. He just did it in a different era.
“A.J. called me after I won my first Cup championship in 2002 and I remember how much it meant to have him call that night and congratulate me. He has given a lot back to racing and has been one of the sport’s biggest supporters. Without guys like him, guys like myself wouldn’t have had a chance to succeed.
“Being with A.J. on the pit box this year at Indy is an honor and something I’ll cherish forever.”
Foyt has four cars entered for this year’s Indy 500 – the two for full-timers Sebastien Bourdais and Dalton Kellett, plus one for Charlie Kimball and another for JR Hildebrand. The latter will run the #1 with a livery similar to that on Foyt’s victorious Trevis-Offy from 1961.
“Tony and I have been good friends for a long time, and I’m glad he’s able to come out for this 500,” said four-time Indy winner Foyt, who first shared the stage with Stewart back in 1995 when presenting him with his championship rings for winning the USAC Triple Crown. Stewart was the first driver to win the USAC Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown titles in a single season, and only one driver, J.J. Yeley, has matched that feat.
“I’m hoping having Tony at the 500 might change our luck! Normally, we run pretty good at Texas but the luck was pretty bad in the doubleheader. We got crashed in the first race and at the start of the second race, both cars got crashed – they never made it to the start-finish line.”
Stewart has long said that Foyt became his hero after watching him in the 1982 Indy 500 when Foyt got out of his car and started working on it in the pits during the race. Last Sunday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, the SHR’s #14 entry of Chase Briscoe carried a throwback paint scheme to Foyt’s #14 Copenhagen-sponsored stock car from 1986.