The following is an event recap with a video link from Wednesday's Tony Stewart Smoke Show Fantasy Camp at Texas Motor Speedway.
Three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart relived his racing days with 15 of his biggest supporters during his annual Smoke Show Fantasy Camp. Stewart, who stepped away from NASCAR competition following the 2016 season, joined fans from across the country in helping simulate what it is like to walk in the shoes of a NASCAR driver.
The Smoke Show remains one of the premier fantasy camps in the country as campers receive the full race experience, complete with a customized firesuit; personalized locker; pre-race driver introductions; two 10-lap competitive sessions in a Team Texas stock car on Texas Motor Speedway's high-banked, 1.5-mile oval; Texas-style Victory Lane celebration with cowboy hat and six shooters; and a three-lap, ride-along experience with Stewart as the driver.
The afternoon and evening was filled with activities, including dinner in Victory Lane with Stewart and an auction with racing memorabilia.
This year marks the 10th edition of the Tony Stewart Smoke Show Fantasy Camp, which benefits Speedway Children's Charities-Texas Chapter. The event has served as the largest single-day fundraiser for Speedway Children's Charities, which assists organizations in Tarrant, Denton, Dallas and Collin counties.
The event has raised $1.6 million entering this year's Smoke Show and Stewart confirmed that that number is guaranteed to grow next year. He announced that he will return in 2018 to play host to the Smoke Show once again, which is scheduled for Oct. 10.
"This is as close as you're going to get to knowing what race day is like for Cup or XFINITY drivers," Stewart said. "We have a good time. We joke around and laugh, and at the end of the day we raise a lot of money for a great charity."
The Smoke Show Fantasy Camp developed from a media event held in October 2007. Texas Motor Speedway hosted a handful of local and regional media to participate in an afternoon of racing in an effort to better educate them with the experience of a driver on race day. The event quickly blossomed into Speedway Children's Charities' most successful fundraisers to help children in North Texas. Campers purchase packages, beginning at $6,000, to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime NASCAR experience.
When Stewart jumped into the driver's seat of his No. 14 Smoke Show Team Texas stock car to give the campers two-seater rides on Texas Motor Speedway's 1.5-mile oval, it marked the first time he had piloted a Cup car since his final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November of 2016. He had some fun with the campers, giving them a word of warning about their upcoming ride-alongs with him.
"This is the first time I've been in a stock car since I got out of the car at Homestead," Stewart said. "I haven't driven on this configuration, either. I would say the first two or three people should be more nervous than the fourth one. But I don't know that I want to tell them that."
What They Are Saying
"Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) has had to carry the weight of the entire sport on his shoulders and I don't know how he's done it. I think he's done an amazing job, not just as a race car driver but as an ambassador for NASCAR racing. To go through the ups and downs that he's had to go through in this sport, and to handle it the way he's handled it, I don't know that there's very many people that could have handled it with the charisma that he's had. He's a mentor to so many people that are driving, that work on cars, that are in this sport, in multiple capacities. He's somebody everybody looks up to."
- Stewart on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s retirement following the 2017 season.
"This is unreal and exciting. This was a birthday surprise from my wife and I didn't have any idea I was getting it and here I am. This is a pretty darn cool experience."
- Smoke Show participant Chris Collins, who traveled all the way from Oregon to take part in the experience.
"Not everybody gets the opportunity (to leave on their own terms). The great thing is Jeff (Gordon) has stayed in the sport. Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) is commentating next year and is still a car owner in the sport. We've changed roles but we haven't gotten away from it. We still love the sport, we love being active in it. It's been great to all of us and I think we all appreciate that fact and want to be a part of it for many years to come."
"For sure it's going to be three and we're pretty confident we're going to be at four, still. We have to do these big, formal, fancy unveils and announcements and stuff. You know how that goes."
- Stewart on the status on his four-car organization heading into next season.
Campers participating in this year's Smoke Show Fantasy Camp spanned the United States. Participants represented Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida and Oregon. ...The Smoke Show Fantasy Camp has raised $1.6 million for Speedway Children's Charities-Texas Chapter heading into this year's event. In total, Speedway Children's Charities has raised more than $10 million in grants since its inception in 1997. To illustrate the organization's impact, one could fill the grandstands of Texas Motor Speedway 18 times with the number of children that have benefitted from the charity's support.