Shane Stewart starts new sprint car chapter at Knoxville

Shane Stewart starts new sprint car chapter at Knoxville
Dave Biro/DB3Inc

Shane Stewart is ready to climb back in the saddle.  

The Bixby, Okla., native will have that opportunity when the World of Outlaws returns to racing at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway on May 8. While many sat idle as the Outlaws experienced a three-month hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stewart joined forces with Bernie Stuebjen.

Their reunion resulted in Stewart’s latest challenge: piloting the No. 71 Indy Race Parts ride next weekend at Knoxville—and beyond.

“Me and Bernie are trying to put a season together,” Stewart said. “What that season entails, nobody knows yet. But we’re going to run Knoxville next Friday—and I’m really excited about that. Bernie has a real popular speed shop around Indy. I actually raced for him around 2009-2010. We won an open race at Knoxville and a race at Eldora. I’m excited to be racing with Bernie. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.

“We have talked about joining the All-Star Circuit of Champions, which is Tony Stewart’s series. It’s a little bit easier to do budget-wise. It’s not nearly as many races as the World of Outlaws, but it still allows you to run all the big World of Outlaws races while running for the championship. So, I’m hoping it all works out.”

Over the last two decades, Stewart has amassed more than 100 winged-sprint wins between 410 and 360cc engine competition. The 43-year-old entered racing in an era when a driver relied on talent and relationships to procure rides. But even on open-wheel tours, times have changed. After five years with Larson-Marks racing, Stewart joined CJB Motorsports for the 2019 season.

Unfortunately, the chemistry just wasn't there.

Stewart isn’t bitter. The second-generation racer just had to hustle a bit more to make the numbers work—particularly since drivers have to compete to earn a living. On March 7, Stewart also announced he would run 10 races with Roth Motorsports in California, but that was prior to the coronavirus breakout.

Throughout several junctures in his career, Stewart considered starting his own team. He questioned whether he could juggle all of the responsibilities of a driver/owner. 

“I probably could have done it, but I’ve always had good rides,” Stewart said. “I thought, ‘Why would I want to stick my neck out and try to worry about paying the bills, hiring the right people that want to do the full World of Outlaws schedule and at the same time focus on racing?’ It’s tough. 

“My buddy Jason Johnson and I had this conversation many times. He did a really good job at it.  He was able to turn the business side off when he got into the race car and focus on that. I never thought I was going to be in a good enough opportunity to do that—so I didn’t. But in situations, like I’m in now, searching for a ride, I wish I would have.”

On Friday, Stewart tested at Atomic Speedway in Waverly, Ohio, to shake down his 410 sprint car with his new team. Stewart reported that the exercise went “really well” at the 3/8th-mile oval. 

While some drivers have kept their skills sharp with iRacing during the hiatus, with a five-year-old and five-month-old at home, Stewart’s priority has been his family. Still, for a driver who has raced since he was seven, being sidelined is a strange sensation.

“I don’t think anyone could ever imagine this,” Stewart said. “The racing world—especially on the sprint car side—most of us aren’t on salaries. Really, most of us haven't seen a paycheck since February when we ran at Florida (Volusia Speedway). And that’s hard. Obviously, I know there are a lot of other people in the same situation, but what makes it tough for us is we’re all independent contractors. 

“So it has been a little bit difficult to try and get money from the government, get self-employment, so that’s been a bit of a headache for some of us, too.”

Like most racers, Stewart has missed the element of competition. He can’t wait to take the green flag at the Sprint Car Capital of the World--even if the invitation-only event is being described as 'behind closed doors.'

“We’re all excited to get back to racing,” Stewart said. “It’s going to be very weird not seeing people in the stands there, but I’m sure the World of Outlaws—and the Knoxville staff—are going to be as professional about it as they can.

“Hopefully, we can put a good show on for the people that watch on DIRTVision.” 

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