PIKE: A Letter To Anthony Wayne, Part I — The Beginning

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To our readership and radio audience:

If you are a regular listener to Motorsports Madness on the Performance Motorsports Network, you know that I have been a lifelong Tony Stewart fan. With his career in the Sprint Cup Series coming to a close on Sunday, I thought I would commemorate the achievement with a letter to said driver, released in five parts starting today. Check back daily for a new installment as we lead up to Race Chaser Online’s coverage of Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami. Hope you enjoy!

– James

Tony Stewart took the checkered flag in the 1999 Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 for his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory. (RacingOne/ISC Archives photo)

Tony Stewart took the checkered flag in the 1999 Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 for his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory. (RacingOne/ISC Archives photo)

Dear Mr. Anthony Wayne Stewart:

You don’t know me, but I know you very well.

I remember the beginning very clearly, in fact. I was six years old, and my favorite driver at the time was Ernie Irvan. Or at least, he was, until he decided that burning through eight of his nine cat-lives was enough, and he wanted to ensure that the last one stuck around.

So he retired. In the middle of the season. At Darlington. On qualifying day. Before the Southern 500.

What a time! What a place! What a way to leave me high and dry.

Or so it was, for a week.

Then came Richmond. You had some fun that day!

You lead 333 laps (out of 400) en route to your first win in the Winston Cup Series. I was still new to the sport, but I knew that your car was orange, and you were young. In my six-year-old mind, that was enough for me to say “I like him!”

I had no idea what kind of adventure I had just signed up for.

I remember the Phoenix and Homestead wins that year too. I watched them on the dinky little TVs we had in the house back then: the 19-inch Sylvania we had in the living room and the 12-inch RCA in the master bedroom.

I remember hearing them talk about how historic it was to see you winning: no one had ever won three races in their rookie season! Somewhere in the back of my mind, I got the sense that something big was going to be happening here.

Good thing those small TVs didn’t last long, because we got a Sony that was twice the size of the old TV, and that thing came in just in time for the 2000 season!

Back when Winston sponsored the series, you and the team used to come to my back doorstep for the Winston Cup Preview. Not literally, of course, but given that “the Joel” was a 10-minute drive from my house, it might as well have been! So of course, when January of 2000 came, I was there.

Race Chaser Nation might recognize that face! That would be me, in the firesuit costume at Christmas in 1999. (Pike family photo)

Race Chaser Nation might recognize that face! That would be me, in the firesuit costume at Christmas in 1999.
(Pike family photo)

Usually, you could find my very teeny-tiny self in my costume of your firesuit. There are many pictures of me wandering around the Coliseum and Annex in Home Depot colors.

At any rate, it was in that sophomore season that everybody figured out you were for real. You had six wins! Six! Which was awesome, but there were also a ton of DNFs that screwed you over. But I was seven, and having tons of fun, and you were going to be around for a long while. That, in the end, is all that mattered.

2002 was a particularly memorable year, for a lot of reasons.

The April Martinsville race is the first one that jumps out to me. My parents woke me up that morning and surprised me with race tickets! They said that my reaction was muted and that they were hoping for more: I think I was just so overwhelmed with it all that I couldn’t process things to the point of extreme excitement, where I know I should have been!

But away I went with my dad. We had a place in the Turn 1 suites, right below where the camera usually sits. I think that made it easier to make sense of everything.

I was a little disappointed to not see you win that day, given how good you had been in the middle of the race, but it was fun to see Bobby win! And even more fun when one of the ladies in the suite gave us wristbands to go down to pit road.

So we meandered around. We snuck down to Bobby’s hat dance in Victory Lane, we went to your pit box, we went to the Start/ Finish Line, we went to your garage… shoot, for Martinsville, it felt like just about everywhere!

I knew then that it wasn’t just a matter of you being good anymore. This whole deal was going to be something very big in my own life.

Richmond was fun too. I wasn’t there in person, and I think I would have been disappointed, because the rain came and washed away the race on my birthday! But you won the very next day, so it was almost as good as it could have been. I appreciated that!

Continued on the next page…

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