The highlight of Tony Stewart’s racing career is still his 2009 track championship at M-40 Speedway near Jones. (Daily News Photo/Provided)

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Championship still the highlight

Published 3:33pm Thursday, July 12, 2012

He’s been racing since high school, but his 2009 track championship remains the highlight of Tony Stewart’s racing career.

“It made all the long nights working on the car, all the accidents and everything feel like it was worth it,” Stewart said.

While the championship at M-40 Speedway in Jones was the highlight, the fact that he is struggling to find sponsors has him wondering if he will even be racing next season.

Stewart is not alone in wondering about the future of racing. There are even local tracks that are wondering if they will be able to continue providing local fans with the action they crave on Friday and Saturday nights.

Stewart, who is a big fan of NASCAR’s Tony Stewart and even sports the No. 14 on the side of his car, is not competing the entire season in 2012. It is the first time since he began his career in 2005 while a junior at Dowagiac Union High School, that he has not run a full schedule.

“It’s hard to find sponsors,” he said. “It’s hard to go to someone and ask them if they will give me the money they worked hard for so that I can go play on the weekends.”

Stewart owns two cars. One he races Friday nights at Hartford Motor Speedway on the dirt. The other car is for asphalt tracks. That one he is hoping to still get out of the garage and on the track at some point this year.

But it all comes down to funding.

Fuel is $8 a gallon. Tires are $400 and last about four races.

“You really got to love it to put that kind of money into it,” he said.

Stewart has just two sponsors this season. They have given him roughly $1,000 to run the car. The other money comes out of his own pocket.

But the financial woes aside, he noted that racing is so much fun and when you get that first checkered flag, “it makes it all worth it.”

Stewart works for Life Care Ambulance Service, is the assistant chief at the Sister Lakes Fire Department and is a Lieutenant at the Dowagiac Fire Department.

His work schedule allows him to work on the cars Wednesday and Thursday and then head to the track Friday night.

His advise to those looking to get into racing is to never give up.

“Keep at it. When you win, it’s all worth it.”

It was only natural that he looked to NASCAR’s Stewart when it came to racing. He likes the way that he speaks his mind and is honest with the people he is racing.

“He kind of has the same mentality that I do,” he said. “If you don’t like how someone is doing something, tell them about it. Don’t keep it inside. If you get in trouble for it at least they can’t say you didn’t tell them what you were thinking.”

Grass Roots Racing is a new weekly feature for Leader Publications. If you know of a local racer that you would like to see featured, please send his name and contact information to scott.novak@leaderpub.com.

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