Story By: DAVE SEAY / VIRGINIA MOTOR SPEEDWAY – JAMAICA, VA – When the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint car series rolls into Virginia Motor Speedway for the April 11 Thursday Night Thunder there will plenty of star power that will be racing with the 900-horsepower winged monsters of dirt.
Leading the list of talented drivers will be former NASCAR Cup Champion Tony Stewart, the owner of the 410 sprint car series. Also expected to compete are former NASCAR stars Kasey Kahne, Dave Blaney and a host of very talented sprint car drivers from Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The Thursday night race at VMS is on the eve of the NASCAR races at Richmond Raceway and will mark the beginning of Virginia Motor Speedway’s 50th season. It will be the return of 410 sprint car racing to the State of Virginia after a 10-year absence. If you have never seen a dirt race this will be one you do not want to miss as the 900-horsepower winged warriors will be battling for the $10,000 top prize.
To say that anticipation is high for this event would be an understatement. We had a chance to talk with Tony Stewart and talk about the All Star Circuit of Champions and the race at Virginia Motor Speedway.
Question: What brought you to being owner of the All-Star Circuit of Champions?
Answer: The All-Stars were running and there was another rival series that was starting up, and a guy called me about booking a show for that. It somehow turned into that I ended up getting both series and just bringing it back to the All-Stars.
We were just trying to save the All-Star series and keep the group of drivers that was there together, instead of letting them split up.
Q: How did the All-Stars race at Virginia Motor Speedway come about?
A: The Sawyer family (VMS owner Billy Sawyer and general manager Clarke Sawyer) got a hold of the guy that does our scheduling for our series. When he asked me about it, they are such a great family and I enjoyed racing so much at Richmond (Raceway) when the Sawyers were owners of it, when I found out they had a dirt track, I didn’t even look at the track to see if it’s somewhere we wanted to go.
If the Sawyers are doing it, we’re in 100 percent. It didn’t take much convincing to get us to book a race with them.
The Sawyers are awesome people and I’m excited to come do an event with them.
Q: Compare driving a NASCAR Cup car to the winged sprints. Why do you love driving these sprint cars so much?
A: Everything happens about four times faster in a winged sprint car than it does in a Cup car. Everything you’re doing in a Cup car, you’re trying to be extremely smooth with them nowadays.
The sprint cars are 900 horsepower with a 1,200-pound car. The power-to-weight ratio is incredible, and everything happens very, very quick in a winged sprint car, so you’ve got to really be on your toes. That’s what I’ve always enjoyed about them.
Q: How does the quality of drivers in the All-Star Circuit of Champions compare to Cup drivers? I know it’s apples to oranges, but how good are these guys we’re going to see at VMS?
A: They’re great. The guys you’re going to see that weekend, you’re going to get some guys that are going to come from Pennsylvania to our event.
The caliber of drivers is incredible. It’s tough some of these nights just to make the main event, so to get into the top 24 to run the “A Main” at the end of the night is an accomplishment.
In the Cup Series, you’ve got the same guys running every week. With a traveling series like we have with the All-Stars, you have different guys who are racing in a particular event that run that track every week, and when you come in as an outsider, you’re a little bit of an underdog, so to speak.
If you can come into a new area and beat these guys on their own turf, it’s a really good feeling.
Q: You would think after stepping away from NASCAR as a driver that your schedule would be less busy, but with over 99 races on your schedule and co-owning a Cup team it looks as if you are busier than ever.
A: Yeah, right now we have 99 races on the schedule so far this year. So, 95 in a sprint cars, three quarter midget races and a modified show and I’m sure we will add another half dozen races on the calendar so it’ll be over 100 races on the calendar for sure.
Everyone always says I thought you retired, and I say no I never retired from anything I just changed what I was driving. I got out of a Cup car and went back to dirt racing, which is what I want to do. I never retired from driving a race car.
Q: Why run 99+ races a year?
A: Why not? If you enjoy it, if littles good then a lot’s better. Honestly, when I retired from the Cup series the first year I got back in a sprint car and we struggled. The reason we booked all these races is if you’re going to compete on the level of the guys from Ohio, Pennsylvania and guys that race sprint cars (like on the World of Outlaws tour) on a daily basis, if you plan on being competitive with those guys and beating those guys you better race a lot. And driving that thing (sprint car) needs to be like an old pair of tennis shoes that slide on and feel good ever time they go on your feet. We just need to race as much as we can and keep getting better.