Austin Crashes Hard and Tony Stewart Tales

Episode 75

October 4, 2015

Linda Bean's Maine Lobsters served lobster roll meals to all the Brad Keselowski Racing team Saturday noon. HTF Motorsports photo

Austin Theriault at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the UNOH 175. HTF Motorsports photo

By now you know that Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault hit the wall at speed during the Rhino Linings 300 at Las Vegas Speedway Saturday evening. Thank the Lord he survived the crash with non life threatening injuries.

I have seen many hard hits at races and this places Austin high on my list. He did not tear down the concert pit wall like Richard Petty did at 1970 Rebel 400 at Darlington Raceway. Petty suffered a dislocated shoulder with bumps and bruises.

One of the first to try out the new SAFER barriers in 2008 was Michael McDowell who  slammed the wall during qualifying for the Samsung 500. He walked away from the crash.

In my opinion the most fierce encounter with the wall in NASCAR had to be the Michael Waltrip crash at Bristol in the 1990 Grand National race. The car hit the gap where cars cross into the infield. Waltrip hit the edge of the concrete wall and shredded his Pontiac yet was able to walk away with help from safety personel.

Theriault just missed the SAFER barrier which I am sure would have lessened his injuries.

Kyle Busch tweeted for complete encirclement of racetracks with the energy absorbing barriers.

As of 11:30 pm Sunday evening a picture of Austin on the plane headed for North Carolina accompanied this statement:

“To all of you who sent prayers, well wishes and support to Austin, we want to say thank you and let everyone know AT’s “en route” back to NC….quite sore but anxious to get on the “track to recovery” (thank the good Lord!) It was within minutes we felt what being part of the huge NASCAR family out there was all about with tweets, posts, calls and messages from so many in the business.”

“We personally can’t thank Brad Keselowski enough for all he’s done for Austin and also everyone at Brad Keselowski Racing for being there and supporting us. They are compassionate and caring people to be with.”

“And thank you to the NASCAR medical staff liaisons. They helped us through this process with thoughtfulness. The outpouring of support from all of you has been an overwhelmingly humbling experience.”

“Thankfulness now has a deeper definition. God Bless.”

It was good to read Austin’s tweets while on the plane and see that he has not lost his sense of humor.

Please continue to pray for Austin and his family. I would think cards mailed to Brad Keselowski Racing would get to Austin. The address is:

Austin Theriault

Brad Keselowski Racing

380 Performance Road

Mooresville, NC 28115

or directly to him at:

Austin Theriault

20321 Sterling Bay Lane W

Apt. N

Cornelius, NC 28031

Da Smoke wins at the 2007 Brickyard 400. The crew followed Tony up the catch fence. HTF Motorsports photo

Da Smoke wins the 2005 Brickyard 400. The crew followed Tony up the catch fence. HTF Motorsports photo

Some Tony Stewart Retirement Thoughts

I had the privilege of covering the Allstate Brickyard 400 in 2005 when Tony Stewart won his first race at the Indiana track. I remember Tony taking his time and savoring the victory. The crew joined with Tony doing their Helio Castoneves fence climbing imitation. I think they banned such celebrations after that.

Stewart eventually visited the Media Center almost an hour after winning the race.After interviews he went back to the track and mingled with spectators and seemed to be in no hurry to leave. The Columbus, Indiana native wanted everyone to know how much he respected victory at the world’s most famous race track as well as the thousands of fans who cheered him on.

Stewart won at the Speedway again in 2007. I suspect that one of his goals in 2016 is to win the Brickyard 400 in his final year.

I wanted to know how some folks felt about Stewart’s retirement or their favorite Tony memory. I am sure I could get dozens of stories about the well known driver. I selected three people.

Fellow motorsports writer Brad Winters on right with Josh Kaufman winner of "The Voice" 2014 at the Indianapolis 500.  Photo courtesy Brad Winters

Fellow motorsports writer Brad Winters on right with Josh Kaufman winner of “The Voice” 2014 at the Indianapolis 500. Photo courtesy Brad Winters

Columbus, Indiana’s Brad Winter’s Shares Tony Stories

I met Brad Winters during my first coverage of the 2001 Brickyard 400. I was hanging around the Rickie Craven garage area when I introduced myself to him. Winters had just done a special about the Maine driver. We have maintained contact over the 14 years since.

I wanted to get Winter’s thoughts specifically since he and Stewart were from the same hometown, Columbus Indiana located about one hour south of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Winters shared a story that did not make the headlines nationally but was certainly memorable in his hometown. The first of June 2008 saw a devastating rain cause severe damage to the lower sections of Columbus and closed the hospital.

Stewart was racing at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. On Monday he flew home where he met with volunteers at the Northside Junior High. He wanted to encourage and thank those who helped with the recovery process. He spent a couple hours in conversation with people at the Red Cross Center set up at the school.

Later that week he bought lunch for the volunteers. That one gesture cost thousands of dollars because Stewart was generous in his interpretation of “volunteers”.

Stewart donated the entire winnings from the race at Michigan to assist folks in the Columbus area.

“In the late 1990’s,Stewart bought the house he grew up in,” said Winters. “He restored his room in the house to the way it looked when he lived there. He lived in that house in a modest neighborhood until he built his current home outside of town.”

Steward brings kids hunting and fishing on his 200 acre property. Often these youngsters are “Make-A-Wish” candidates. Stewart does this according to Winters with little or no fanfare.

You may hear Stewart mentioning Dairy Queen in his conversations. The reason he does that is to recognize one of his first sponsors when he began his career in karts.

Stewart was 8 years old when Bob Franke, owner of the Dairy Queen Brazier on 3rd Street, came on board to help the Columbus youngster with his racing effort. If you visit the DQ Brazier you will see a wall dedicated to Tony Stewart. Stewart still visits the store to get chili dogs and chocolate shakes. He is a very loyal person.

Robert "Mick" saunders on left with Carl Edwards at Indianapolis Raceway Park (Now named Lucas Oil Raceway) More about the Carl Edwards connection in a future episode. HTF Motorsports photo

Robert “Mick” Saunders on left with Carl Edwards at Indianapolis Raceway Park (Now named Lucas Oil Raceway) More about the Carl Edwards connection in a future episode. HTF Motorsports photo

Rushville, Indiana’s Connection To Tony Stewart

I met Pastor Mick Saunders when I entered the infield at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2002. I walked up to him and introduced myself thus beginning a relationship which continues to this day.

Mick is a retired teacher/pricipal in the Rushville school system. He played a part in the career of a young Tony Stewart when he lived in Rushville with the Martz family; Larry and his wife Tutti and their three boys Brian, Brad, and Brady. Their nicknames were Fuze, Buck, and Tate.

In his book “True Speed, My Racing Life” by Stewart as told to Bones Bourcier, Stewart said, “I lived with the Martz family a year and a half, and in that time Rushville became a second hometown to me. Even at the races they stopped announcing ‘from Columbus, Indiana’ before my name, now they refered to me as being from Rushville, because that is where I lived.”

“It was only a matter of time until I picked up the ‘Rushville Rocket’ nickname that has stuck with me every since.”

Mick showed me the 1/5 mile dirt track at the Rushville Fairgrounds. The nondescript track was the site of many three-quarter midget races involving Stewart. Pick up trucks would line the perimeter of the fences with their tailgates and boxes forming viewing platforms.

I also saw the sign declaring Rushville the “Home of Racing Champion Tony Stewart” as well as the street named in his honor.

Mick helped out with the crew on the Stewart midget cars. He remembers, “Stewart was like the rest of the kids dirt poor. I picked him up in my Ford Fiesta to race at Eldora in Rossburg, Ohio.”

“Stewart slept all the way to Eldora. I woke him up; he shook off the cobwebs and climbed into that race car. By the time he got to turn three sparks were flying and I think he passed 9 cars. That boy was talented.”

Longtime Tony Stewart fan Kevin Grass on left at his farm in Mars Hill with HTF Motorsports photo

Longtime Tony Stewart fan Kevin Grass on left at his farm in Mars Hill with Mitchell Grass, and Duane Grass.  HTF Motorsports photo

Stewart’s Retirement From A Fan’s Viewpoint

Kevin Grass a former Agriculture Educator, FFA Advisor,  High School Principal and now a full-time farmer said,” I have been a Tony Stewart fan since 1999 when he came to NASCAR. He could drive anything. He drove hard. He had personality. He had attitude.”

“He didn’t care who he was racing against he just wanted to win. He was a guy who could drive a bulldozer and make it perform. He had been in the Indy Racing League so he could race anything that had four tires on it!”

“I’ve met Tony on three or four different occasions. Last time was at New Hampshire two years ago; the weekend before he broke his leg.”

“I think that set him back. Since then it took him a long time to rebound. I think the pressures of being an owner and adding another car have added stress on Tony. He’s not getting any younger. It’s a young person’s sport.”

“It was not a surprise with what was going on with Michael Waltrip Racing you got Clint Bowyer who can come on board to drive the number 14. I think Bowyer’s a good fit with Tony’s sponsors.”

“He needs to get done. He needs to get out of the car. I think the changes they’ve made to the set up of the current cars has not suited his driving style.”

“I think they (his crew) have tried desparately this year even NASCAR as an organization tried to find something for the old guys to drive. He and jeff Gordon have not been successful under these type of conditions.”

Grass thinks that Stewart will become the face of Stewart-Haas Racing because of his sponsor relations skills. He will show up to the races and become supportive of team members similar to what he accomplished with Kevin Harvick in 2014.

Trivia. In 1996 in the Indy racing league finale at Las Vegas Speedway Stewart was running in second place when a tire blew and he pancaked the wall at around 200 mph. The net result was a broken collarbone, fractured pelvis, a fractured hip, and a cracked scapula. So he and Austin Theriault have experienced hard hits at Las Vegas/

So what do you think? Email me at thale@reagan.com with your thoughts. Until then…

Let’s Go Racing

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing.