Tony Stewart "honored" by surprise guest at NASCAR Awards

On April 21, Tony Stewart met Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder prior to the band’s appearance in Columbia, South Carolina.

Tony Stewart "honored" by surprise guest at NASCAR Awards
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
A special tribute to Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
A special tribute to Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
Rick Hendrick, musician Edddie Vedder, Tony Stewart and NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing is congratulated by teams on pit road
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
A special tribute to Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
2016 Champion and race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing

It was a moment that changed the three-time champion’s life.

Now Stewart and Vedder, along with the NASCAR community, look to change the lives of thousands afflicted with Epidermolysis Bullosa.

I was totally blown away and caught off guard. I really don’t know what to say to be honest with you.

Tony Stewart

At Friday night’s Sprint Cup Awards banquet, Vedder surprised Stewart as he was being feted on his retirement. The "gotcha" moment -- Vedder's unscripted introduction of the three-time champion -- was arranged by Stewart’s long-time business manager Eddie Jarvis.

The true surprise

But the true surprise came when championship owner Rick Hendrick announced a $1.8-million donation to Vedder’s favorite charity — the EB Research Partnership — in honor of Stewart’s retirement.

Vedder initially was speechless, but finally exclaimed, “This is un(expletive)-believable.” Then added, "I'll pay the fine."

“When I first heard about it, it was quite hard to grasp the intensity of the condition,” Vedder said of Epidermolysis Bullosa, a devastating skin disorder affecting on in every 50,000 births with no known cure.

“It’s about the most insane skin disorder you could imagine. And when you realize it also affects the internal organs, you see it as diabolical. It’s very hard to describe until you meet the young folks with it, and they make you realize how much you take for granted.

“You also realize that these are some of the strongest, coolest, most admirable people on the face of the Earth.”

Moving forward from setback

Stewart had been sidelined for the first eight races of the 2016 Sprint Cup season following a dune buggy accident in January. He suffered a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra. It wasn’t the first time Stewart overcame tremendous odds to return to a race car but now in his mid-40s, the challenge was increasingly difficult.

Seeing Vedder prior to Stewart’s return to competition at Richmond in April was an inspiration to the driver, who was about to embark on his final season in stock cars. Vedder recounted the tragedy that occurred at a Pearl Jam concert in 2000 when nine fans were killed in a mosh pit in Denmark.

“He said how devastating it was for him,” Stewart said of Vedder’s experience. “He said how hard it was for him to get back on the road, but once they did it, they were glad they did. That’s what helped me — kind of with that same attitude of, ‘I just got to do this again and get started.’

“That’s why I just can’t believe that he’s here.”

Stewart went on to win his 49th-career Cup race and qualify for the Chase in his farewell season. He also became involved in the EB Research Partnership.

Still, nothing could prepare him for what happened at the Wynn Resort on Friday.

“I’m glad I didn’t start drinking after I made my deal because I thought I was done,” Stewart said. “But I was totally blown away and caught off guard. I really don’t know what to say to be honest with you.

“I’m really honored that Eddie Vedder would come here for this and I’m really excited that the racing community raised that kind of money to help that charity. It’s a big deal. And when I found out about it, it became a big deal for me, too. This is a great start and we’re going to keep plugging away and raise more money for it. It’s a very important charity to him and his wife. When you meet people like him that are that passionate about something, it immediately makes you want to be as passionate as well. That’s why we got involved.”

It’s not surprising that Stewart’s last act as a NASCAR driver would be charitable. Over the last two decades, his untold contributions have been many. Stewart believes this latest donation from his peers will go a long way to finding a cure for EB.

Jimmie Johnson's thoughts

Even seven-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson got into the act.

"I did play a role in the donation," Johnson said. "I did know that Eddie was going to be here. Being as close to Tony and his whole group of people, I knew what was coming. I felt pretty honored to be one of just a handful of people that knew what was going down. It was a special moment.

"We were convinced we were going to have tears out of Stewart for once -- and it didn't happen. Not that I feel like we came up short, we were convinced we were going to have to carry him up on our stage. He composed himself pretty well. His smile just kept getting bigger and bigger."

After Stewart took pictures with the media and said his final good-byes, he walked out of the room arm-in-arm with Jarvis who whispered, “I gotcha, didn’t I.”

“Yes, you did,” Stewart replied.

shares
comments
Monster Energy wants to see "raw emotion" from NASCAR drivers in 2017

Previous article

Monster Energy wants to see "raw emotion" from NASCAR drivers in 2017

Next article

Marchionne confirms Dodge on verge of NASCAR return

Marchionne confirms Dodge on verge of NASCAR return
Load comments
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021
Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption Prime

Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a chance of redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Effectively replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith...

NASCAR Cup
Feb 11, 2021
Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon Prime

Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon

In this exclusive one-on-one interview, Roger Penske reveals the inner drive that has made him not only a hugely successful team owner and businessman but also the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. He spoke to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Dec 28, 2020
Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started Prime

Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started

Chase Elliott's late charge to the 2020 NASCAR Cup title defied predictions that it would be a Kevin Harvick versus Denny Hamlin showdown. While the two veterans are showing no signs of slowing down, Elliott's triumph was a window into NASCAR's future…

NASCAR Cup
Nov 18, 2020
Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture Prime

Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture

“You can’t hear me? Hey n*****” Those fateful words uttered by Kyle Larson, spoken into his esports headset on April 12, were directed at his sim racing spotter – but instead they quickly became amplified around the world via social media, including his own Twitch stream.

NASCAR Cup
Oct 29, 2020