In this two-part story, you'll get an in-depth look of the professional and private side of Stewart beyond the racetrack. The first installment gives you a snapshot of the frantic schedule Stewart keeps. Strap in.
Considering Tony Stewart is a two-time NASCAR champion, household name and sports hero who stars in television commercials, has celebrity phone numbers on speed dial and is greeted most places he goes with cheers, high-fives, women fawning and kids wanting autographs. .. you might expect to find him with an entourage of personal assistants, chauffeurs and chefs and plenty of fun-filled down time before each upcoming race weekend.
Instead, Stewart, dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and a new pair of Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers, drove himself to work -- as he does every day -- to a photo shoot in a nondescript building located in the back of an industrial complex in Mooresville, N.C.
There was no fawning, no celebration when he ambled in the door -- still needing a shave. As for fun, well that depends on your definition of it. Down time? Never saw it.
As Stewart settled into a director's chair to grudgingly have make-up applied and his hair done, he was handed the list of the hundreds of photos he'd be posing for.
"And to think I thought I'd just be driving a race car," Stewart said.
Each shot, to be taken with him alongside one or more of his 2011 Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolets or holding up sponsor products, was spelled out in excruciating detail: 1. Chest-up head shot, straight on. 2. Chest-up head shot, head slightly turned to the left. 3. Chest-up head shot, head slightly turned to the left, sunglasses on ...
In between all this were the phone interviews his public relations team had lined up, video messages to make and a national teleconference with NASCAR reporters. Tailors would be arriving soon to fit him for new suits, not to mention the dinner he was throwing later for his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman's pit crew.
It didn't take long to figure out that driving a race car bumper-to-bumper in four-wide traffic at 200 mph at Talladega Superspeedway two days later was surely the least tedious job he'd have that week.
"The notion that drivers show up to a racetrack on Friday and then spend the weekend in a race car before taking a few days off and doing it all over again the next weekend is blown out of the water with Tony,'' said his public relations manager Mike Arning, who has worked alongside Stewart for 11 years.
"If he's not wearing his owner hat at Stewart-Haas Racing, he's somewhere doing something, and it's not just appearances for his sponsors. Granted, there is a lot of that, but Tony -- on his own volition -- has done work on behalf of racetracks and charities that go well beyond the scope of his NASCAR obligations.
"He's a car owner, he's a track promoter and he's a businessman. He has a lot of experience from a lot of different viewpoints, and while he won't admit it, it's made him one of the more eclectic drivers in the garage.
"To put in bluntly, he gets it, which means he understands that long hours outside of the race car is just part of the job."
Before the long day's work began for the photo shoot, the photographers, the stylist and Stewart's public relations and marketing team had to settle into what all of Stewart's friends and co-workers refer to as "Tony Time.''
It doesn't start until after noon for the morning-averse driver.
And as far as setting your watch to it?
"It depends,'' Stewart freely admitted with a laugh. "On a good week, you'd be less than 30 minutes off, on a bad week, you'd be an hour, hour and a half off. It just depends on what's going on.''
And so, like clockwork, Stewart arrived an hour and half late. His No. 14 Chevrolets sat in the dark, ready to go, sporting fresh decals for Office Depot and new sponsor Mobil 1 on the hoods and doors.
It only took a few minutes to get Stewart prepped and dressed. From time to time, Stewart wondered aloud how long it would be until technology could digitally install him into photographs, but he settled in like a pro for a well-choreographed, marathon day of flash bulbs.
"Smile." "Turn three-quarters." "Don't smile." "Hand on hip." The photographers shouted while his stylist Karen Weast jumped in and out of the shadows, constantly fixing his hair, tilting a prop just so or adjusting his driver's suit so the sponsor's name stood out.
And so it went. Every single minute of his day was accounted for. Not once did Stewart ask for a break.
In between the various prop set-ups, Arning would hand him a cellphone already connected to various reporters ... an interview with TV Guide might land a 2011 cover story ... The Fort Worth Star-Telegram wanted him for a front-page feature, which was a big deal since the area had just been wrapped up in World Series fever ...
Stewart started laughing during one phone call, later explaining that the journalist had questioned his "psychological state" after a series of tough losses in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup took him out of contention for the title. He's currently eighth in the standings with two races remaining.
Two o'clock rolled around and Stewart had to join a teleconference with all the national NASCAR beat reporters.
Notoriously cantankerous with the racing media, Stewart insists he's "fine" with them now even as he joked with the photographers that with all the bad weather in the area, the speaker phone might mysteriously disconnect in the middle of his 30 allotted minutes. In the end, Stewart "Your welcomed" every reporter's "Thank You," and gave thoughtful answers with only a few grimaces.
"A local television guy asked me the other day what it's like being the 'bad boy' of NASCAR and I had to explain to him that he needed to get with the program, that I haven't been the bad boy in about three years,''' Stewart said with a laugh. "That torch has been passed on to Kyle Busch.''
And then, more than five hours, a couple hundred shots and a tornado warning later, at the end of the photo session, the photographers and Stewart's marketing team suddenly started shaking their heads and whispering nervously to one another from behind the cameras and bright lights.
They had overlooked a detail and were now going to need to reshoot an additional series of photographs of Stewart holding up sponsor El Monterey's frozen Mexican food packages for promotional material the company would use next year. Extra-extra large burritos, chimichangas and frozen taquitos -- 17 variations of Mexican meals -- and Stewart had already posed with each one, smile on, in a shot list long enough to stretch from Charlotte to Tijuana.
Figuring that the patience-waning Stewart might not welcome the news he'd now have to do a long series of re-takes, his marketing team just kept going, hopeful he might not notice an extra 100 camera flashes.
Or the fact that his next appointment -- that appreciation dinner for Newman's pit crew -- would now be bumped back into dessert.
The weather was getting worse. A pounding rain and howling wind served as background noise on a long, monotonous but typical day for the champ. There aren't enough minutes.
"I need 30-hour days and 400-day years, but as soon as I'd get that, then I'd need more,'' he explained. "But I love what I do. I love my life.''
At almost 10 p.m., Stewart left the studio and drove himself in a driving rain to the dinner with Newman's crew at one of his favorite local restaurants. Ushered in through the kitchen to a private room in the back, Stewart joined Newman's crewmen, who had already eaten dinner. Stewart ordered something quick -- a meal of fresh greens topped with grilled chicken, a vinaigrette dressing on the side and a tall glass of water that would have made his newly-hired personal trainer very happy.
But instead of eating, Stewart gave a short speech and visited with every one of the team members, teasing them and praising them in equal portions. Three hours late, in a horrible thunderstorm, Stewart came to recognize them. You could see the appreciation in their eyes.
At the end, he walked around the large table, shook everyone's hand and slyly pressed a generous Bass Pro Shops gift card into each palm -- a little bonus thank you for a season well done.
Now, more than 12 hours after his day began, Stewart climbed in his Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and headed home to his houseboat anchored at nearby Lake Norman, where his two beloved cats awaited his return.
From a Pickup Truck to a Private Jet
By the time Stewart and his trainer, Marc Arnone, arrived at the Concord Regional Airport the following morning for a three-city, two-state, round-the-clock work day, Stewart had already exercised at the gym and eaten two of the five small meals his new diet requires.
In a rare, complete reverse of "Tony Time," we lifted off in his private jet for Daytona Beach a couple of hours earlier than originally planned. This time, Stewart had insisted on the important addition to his already crowded schedule.
This was non-negotiable. He wanted time to stop by a Daytona Beach hospital and visit with a terminally ill friend before heading to his assignment across the street -- a media event of him painting a new start-finish line on the recently repaved Daytona International Speedway.
Stewart settled into his usual seat in the leather-upholstered jet -- leaning back on a couch, his feet resting on the arm of a chair across the aisle. His right-hand man and business manager, Eddie Jarvis, sat across from him; his father, Nelson Stewart, a public relations assistant and Arnone sat up front in the spacious jet.
The transportation is a far cry from Stewart's humble racing roots, when it was just him and his father in a pick-up truck hauling a go-kart in a wooden trailer around the Midwest. Stewart almost seemed apologetic about the grand appearances.
"When we had our pick-up and trailer it was simple,'' Stewart explained. "Now I need a 53-foot semi-trailer, a team plane, a plane that takes me to the track and I have all the responsibilities that come with it.
"Everybody looks at a jet as luxury. Drivers don't buy planes just to have planes; they aren't luxury items,'' Stewart said. "When we fly on this, 95 percent of it is for work. Today we're going Charlotte to Daytona, Daytona to Orlando and Orlando to Talladega. You could not physically do that ... you couldn't get commercial flights to do that.
"What this does is just give the people that run my schedule the flexibility to cram more stuff into my calendar,'' he added with a slight smile.
"About once a week, I ask myself, 'What have I gotten myself into?' ''
Stewart, playing video games on his IPad -- for hand-eye coordination, he assured -- was subdued throughout the hour-and-a-half flight. It was obvious that his heart was heavy thinking about his sick friend. The relationship had meant a lot to him. Stewart knew it might be the last time he would see him; and he was right.
His friend died two days later. It had been the right call to adjust his frantic schedule.
"You realize that what we do (as race car drivers) is such a small part and really not that important when you look at everything going on all around you,'' Stewart said. "If you were sick, would your friend come see you? Yes. That's what you do as a friend.''
After the hospital visit, Stewart rejoined our group at Daytona International Speedway, put on a good-natured smile and never lost a step. He inspected the new pavement in a pace car with speedway president Joie Chitwood and painted the black and white checkered flag pattern on NASCAR's most famous start-finish line. He then fielded questions from the assembled media and even did several satellite television interviews before we boarded the plane for the 30-minute hop to Orlando, Fla., for another appearance and photo op.
When the elevator doors opened and Stewart appeared at the NASCAR Grille at Universal Studios-Orlando, a huge room of people erupted into cheers and applause.
While the most famous member of our party spent a couple hours posing for photos and signing autographs on behalf of his longtime sponsor Coca-Cola, we sat at a nearby table, where one of the waitresses struck up a conversation with another member of our group, Stewart's public relations assistant for the trip, who we'll call "Joe."
The two joked and flirted while, on the other side of the room, Stewart was still smiling for photos, high-fiving 10-year-olds and thanking bedazzled 40-year-old women for being loyal fans.
Instantly upon joining the table for a quick late dinner, Stewart picked up on the vibe between Joe and the waitress. He urged Joe to ask the young woman for her phone number.
Just before we left, the normally shy and reserved Joe eventually fumbled out an introduction, offered the waitress his business card and nervously asked her for her phone number -- all with Stewart and the table of "back-seat drivers" looking on, doing a poor job of concealing their grins but trying not to stare.
Once the awkward moment passed, Joe knew what was coming next.
"Are you kidding me?'' Stewart asked Joe incredulously as the waitress walked away from the table.
"This girl is obviously interested in you. You have a ball served up perfectly for you to hit out of the ballpark and that's the best you can do? Come on.''
The good-natured ribbing continued as we climbed in the SUV for a ride back to Stewart's airplane, which sat awaiting the final leg of the trip to Talladega. On the drive, Stewart grabbed his buddy's cell phone and took the situation into his own hands.
He called the restaurant, secured the waitress' number and handed the phone to Arnone, who left a message on Joe's behalf as Joe sat in the back seat shaking his head in embarrassment. And what he might admit was quiet gratitude.
Joe got a message from the waitress the following morning.
"Thank God Dr. Love showed up to teach me a few things,'' Joe joked.
Clearly, Stewart's work was now done for the day.
"That night is a great example of why so many of us have worked for Tony for so long," Joe would reflect later. "Yes, the travel is tough and he can be challenging at times, but you're not going to find a better guy in the garage to work for.''
"I'd run through a wall for that guy.''
In Part Two of FanHouse's exclusive all-access look at Tony Stewart's whirlwind lifestyle, the two-time NASCAR champion opens up about his racing life, his celebrity and his bachelorhood.