MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – Not all that long ago, Shane Stewart was the quintessential hire amongst touring sprint car teams.
He had a winning pedigree and a good-natured personality that hoisted it. He was easy on equipment and easy to root for.
In 2020, not much has changed internally for Stewart other than he’s a little older. But externally? Things operate a little different than when he finished second in the World of Outlaws standings in 2015.
“Ten years ago, a guy like me could show up with his helmet bag and get competitive rides,” Stewart said. “Today, you can’t just show up with your helmet bag. You have to show up with a bag of cash and a helmet bag.”
Stewart is stuck in a troubling phase at 44 years old: without a full-time ride and without the lucrative funds that ultimately ink deals with top owners in the cutthroat business of sprint car racing. Instead, he’s now spreading his full-time desires across part-time rides, like his current and only deal with Bernie Stuebgen in the Indy Race Parts No. 71.
“That’s what it’s boiled down to,” Stewart said of needing funds to ink deals in sprint car racing. “And, honestly, you can’t blame the car owners for it being that way because there are people who pay good money to get rides. And Bernie is no different.
“That could change our program in the next few weeks,” Stewart added, switching to a more theoretical approach. “Someone could say, ‘hey, I’m going to give you $100,000 or $200,000 and I want you to run my kid, and we’re going to build a program.’ Bernie isn’t going to be dumb enough to turn that down. That’s just how it is right now.”
This past weekend, Stewart proved he can still get the job done, winning night one of the World of Outlaws Summer Nationals at Williams Grove Speedway with Stuebgen. He led all 25 laps from the point on Friday night and etched a big moment on this road to proving pedigree still rakes in cash, too.
“Besides the Knoxville Nationals, coming to Williams Grove is one of the toughest tracks to win at, of any track we go to, for me,” Stewart said. “Obviously getting a win was huge for us.”
At the end of last year, Stewart was let go by CJB Motorsports after a tumultuous season that ended with one victory and a ninth-place finish in the World of Outlaws standings. The year before, Stewart split from Kyle Larson Racing and was replaced by Californian rising talent Carson Macedo.
Just the detachment from another top ride and opportunity took its toll on Stewart. Shortly after last season’s World Finals in Charlotte, he sold his racing seats and wanted practically nothing to do with sport that’s been cruel to him in recent years.
“I was just mentally and physically beat up,” Stewart said. “The sad thing about it was it wasn’t from a lack of effort. It just didn’t work out. That was the frustrating part.”
Stewart knows his worth and didn’t need Friday’s win to affirm his self-belief. But, still, reflecting on his first win with the World of Outlaws since last June evoked the statement of “I can still do this.” It empowers Stewart to search deeper in a time where options are thin and scarce.
“Honestly, I still want to be on the Outlaw tour full-time, if that’s ever a possibility again,” Stewart said. “I’ve been trying to work to make some things happen. Obviously all of the cars out traveling, they all have good drivers in them. They are pretty established. You don’t see a lot of new car owners jumping out and fork out the money to run a full Outlaw tour. And I know that.”
Stewart said he inquired about the KCP Racing No. 18, which opened recently after Ian Madsen was let go. But 18-year-old Gio Scelzi ultimately filled the seat, and even in the face of rejection, Stewart is still finding joy in the present.
“I’m happy doing what I’m doing right now,” Stewart said. “I’m happy and comfortable in Bernie’s car. I think it’s shown. We’ve run strong every time we are together, but Bernie has a business to run.”
If full-time racing with the Outlaws isn’t feasible, would relocating from Indianapolis to central Pennsylvania and joining an established team in Posse land be an option?
“I’m not going to say I wouldn’t consider it,” Stewart said. “These guys race a lot out here. … The money is good and it seems like it’s getting better and better.”
It would be a complete lifestyle change for Stewart, who would need to either commute eight hours from his Indianapolis home or move his family of four to the central Pennsylvania area just to make it work.
“The only way I’d move to Pennsylvania is if we had a solid deal and they’d say, ‘hey, we’ll give you three or four solid years and try to build a legit program and be competitive,’” Stewart said. “I would definitely consider that. … But, honestly, there’s not a lot of teams out here that have good, solid programs.”
All that Stewart knows at the moment is this: he’s racing this weekend with the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions in the midwest, the Ironman 55 in Pevely, Mo., and The One & Only at Knoxville Raceway on Aug. 13-15.
“That’s the hard part for me right now is figuring out what the heck is next,” Stewart said, “because I just don’t know.”