FONDA - Tony Stewart has driven all types of racecars at a variety of tracks all around the country.
The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion added Fonda Speedway, the "Track of Champions," to an already impressive resume on Thursday.
"You don't see many racetracks with the covered grandstands any more," Stewart said in a Victory Lane interview. "It definitely gives you a feel for the history of this place. It is pretty cool when you are coming out of turn four, because you see that and everybody out there."
Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart addresses the crowd Thursday at Fonda Speedway. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
Stewart joined the University of Northwestern Ohio All Star Circuit of Champions 410 sprint cars for their third annual visit to the speedway.
When asked about his thoughts after turning a few laps on the egg-shaped Montgomery County Fairgrounds half-mile dirt track, Stewart said, "This is probably one of the hardest tracks I have every raced at in my life."
Fonda Speedway was a regular stop on the NASCAR circuit when it carried the NASCAR sanctioning during the '50s and '60s.
"The NASCAR guys used to race here years and years ago, and it is kind of neat that I am able to share that tradition on such a challenging track," Stewart said.
It did not take "Smoke" long to find a fast way around the track as he raced from a fourth place starting spot in his heat race to take the victory.
However, it was not an easy victory as Jessica Zemken, who started her racing career at Fonda Speedway in the sportsman division and has posted sprint-car victories at the track, gave him a fight.
Zemken started fifth and chased down Stewart and brought a loud cheer from the near-capacity crowd as she passed Stewart as they exited turn four to take the white flag in the eight-lap qualifier.
However, before they could complete the lap, the caution flew, reverting the order to the last completed lap, putting Stewart back in front. Stewart was able to hold his lead for the final circuit to claim the heat-race win.
"Winning that heat race tonight was a highlight for me after staring fourth on a challenging track," he said. "I am proud of that."
Although not qualifying for the Dash for Cash for the top six time trialers, Stewart paid attention to the race.
"I got to watch the dash here tonight and got to learn a little bit with a couple of guys running different lines," he said. "The track looks like it will change lines quickly so we will have to watch that. I think we are starting ninth tonight, so we will have a ways to go."
Stewart found the high side of the speedway to his liking as he picked his way through traffic for a third-place finish behind series regulars Tim Shaffer and David Gravel.
Though on hand primarily to race, Stewart did take time early in the evening at his pit area to talk racing with fans and pose for a few photos before getting ready for the evening's racing.