Shane Stewart

Contributor

Shane Stewart

Anybody that gets the opportunity to go and do the full World of Outlaws (WoO) deal probably thinks that they are ready to do it. Until you actually get out there, though, and go through the trials and tribulations of getting your butt whupped on a daily basis and gain experienced, you don’t really know whether or not you’re ready to be out there on the road.

For me personally with Rudeen Racing and Roth Motorsports, I can’t really tell you why, but it just didn’t work out. It wasn’t that I wasn’t ready to do it. Mentally was I as sharp as I am now? No. I wasn’t, but in the right situation I think I could have been successful out there with those two teams. It just wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t have the right people around me. Now don’t take that out of context, I was working with good people, it just wasn’t the same situation as it is now.

Now that I’m older I’ve been through a lot of different experiences since then, a lot of humbling experiences. I’ve had to ask myself whether or not I really want to keep doing this. You go to a top echelon team like Rudeen or Beef Packers and when that stuff doesn’t work out you’re kind of like, ‘Okay, now where do I go?’

It makes you really question whether or not you want to keep beating your head against the wall and stay a professional sprint car driver. For some reason, something inside of my head kept telling me to keep doing it. I stuck it out and the crazy thing is I really do believe that if you work hard enough and you want it bad enough everything will work out. I love sprint car racing. I’m a fan of the sport before I’m a driver or anything else. I love being around this industry.

You go to a top echelon team like Rudeen or Beef Packers and when that stuff doesn’t work out you’re kind of like, ‘Okay, now where do I go?’

I think in each of the situations I was in, I was able to learn something that I carried into the next adventure, next team and next group of guys that I worked with. Over time I was able to learn as much as I could about a sprint car and knowing how they work.

My dad taught me at an early age that you have to understand how these things work and that you have to know how to work on them because you’re not always going to be in a situation where you have a really intelligent crew chief that can make all of the calls. There are only a handful of people capable of doing that.

Fortunately for me all of these experiences led me to where I am today. Prior to Larson-Marks Racing (LMR) I was bouncing around from ride to ride. I was lucky enough to get hooked up with Joe Gaerte and Tim Norman and also get hooked up with Finley Farms.

I had rides in each region. I had Scott McClaren on the East Coast, Miles Hill up in Canada, I had Tim and Joe kind of in the center of the country and I had Finley’s deal out west. I also still had Paul Silva’s deal. I think I learned from all of my different experiences with each team and it kind of led me on the path to hooking up with LMR. Honestly I couldn’t be any happier about where I am today. If someone said in 4 years you’re going to end up here I would do all of those experiences all over again.

Shane Stewart sprint car at Volusia Speedway in Florida
Shane Stewart rides the no.2 Larson Marks Racing car in the sunset at Volusia Speedway in Florida | Photography: Jeffrey Turford

Early On

During the mid-2000’s I’d hooked up with Scott Chilcutt and Rob Hart. I’d just left The Holbrook 8H which at the time was a really good ride. I’d had a lot of success, we were fast and we were able to win some Outlaws-caliber races. We would have won The Gumout Series points if I hadn’t missed the first 10 races or so in that season. I knew the 8H was falling apart a little bit and I knew that I needed to find a different team to get hooked up with. Scott Chilcutt came around and offered me the ride.

I ran with Scott for a couple of seasons and then Rob and I went out to Dirt Cup and ran for Kevin Rudeen. Fortunately we were able to win and that kind of opened a door. At that time Kevin was talking about doing the Outlaws deal with Joey Saldana and then that deal kind of fell apart a little bit. Racing with Kevin opened the door for me and that team kind of meshed in really well with the Chilcutt team. Together we were able to put together the Outlaws deal with the No 26 car.

Kevin knows how to let people do their jobs, there was no micro-managing on his part.

Going into that I thought, ‘Okay, if I win five Outlaws races in a season that’s going to be an awesome year.’ You try to set realistic goals. I felt like if I could run up front a few times and have some good results that the points would kind of fall where they fell. I wasn’t concerned as much about points as I was just trying to win races and trying to run well. It was obviously an all-new experience for me.

Kevin is probably one of the best car owner’s I’ve ever driven for. He’s really a lot like my current car owner Justin Marks in that he’s really business savvy. Kevin knows how to let people do their jobs, there was no micro-managing on his part. He’s a very unique guy. You could see him walking around in the pits and you’d never think that he would be a sprint car owner. Kevin is a very good guy, he treated me really well and took good care of my family and I while I was there. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation in terms of a car owner.

In the end it just didn’t work out. We went through a couple of crew guys and Kevin just ended up calling it quits more or less. The economy was starting to slow down a little bit and his company was suffering.

Honestly, looking back on that, I wish we would have hit and missed for a couple of years, or maybe a season instead of going just straight into it with an all-new car owner, all-new stuff. I think if we would have been running a little bit better Kevin would have kept going. We were struggling. There were times that we had speed, but it just wasn’t consistent Tyler (Swank) and I weren’t really meshing well in the driver/crew chief role and I think that made it kind of easy for Kevin to make the decision to step away and concentrate on his companies and try to get them turned around.

One thing I’ve always made a conscious effort to do throughout my career was end things with each team on a good note. I still talk to almost all of the car owner’s that I have driven for in the past. I’ve been out here long enough to know that sometimes things just don’t work out. On the outside looking in that deal should have worked. We had all of the resources to make it work but for some reason it didn’t. Kevin is a great guy, though, and I still talk to Kevin a lot and I actually still invest in some of his projects.

Shane Stewart walks into his trailer at The 2016 DIRTcar Nationals in Volusia, Florida | Photography:Jeffrey Turford

Grinding Away

Honestly, at that point my confidence was in the toilet. I had really wanted that deal to work out and then it didn’t. It was a really tough period. There wasn’t really many good rides available and when you struggle with a big team like that there aren’t too many people looking in your direction when it comes time to hire a driver.

At that point I really didn’t know what the heck I was going to do. Eventually things just kind of started to turn around for me. I was able to go to Australia and race for Bill Mann again and we had a little success out there. From there, I hooked up with the Doyle Harley-Davidson team and that led me into the transition of meeting Paul Silva.

Honestly, at that point my confidence was in the toilet. I had really wanted that deal to work out and then it didn’t. It was a really tough period.

I enjoyed a lot of success with Paul, I also learned a lot from Paul. I still talk to Paul to this day about certain things like setup. That was a particular part of my career that I really enjoyed. Paul and I had a lot of success and everything just kind of worked out well for me.

We won a World of Outlaws race out at Elma, Washington and ran really well at Knoxville which started to open some eyes. We went out to Trophy Cup and ran really well there and that opened the eyes of Dennis Roth.

Dennis shot me a really good offer and I thought at that stage in my career I was ready to go back out on the Outlaws tour again.

I still believe if the situation had been a little different I would have enjoyed a lot more success with Roth. Dennis is a tough cookie and is not very easy to please but on the flip side of that, when you do have some success and he’s the first one there to congratulate you. He’ll tell you, ‘I’m spending a million bucks for you to come out here and race so I’m going to expect some results.’ We just weren’t able to get the results he was looking for.

The hard thing about doing the Outlaws deal is that when you get into a slump it’s hard to get out of it.

We did three-quarters of the Outlaws deal together before we got out west and I kind of sensed that something was going to happen. We weren’t racing that well. Davey Whitworth had started the year with me and now I was with Bonzai Bruns and Kevin Loveys was with me from Canada. We just struggled. I’m not really sure why but we just could not get going.

The hard thing about doing the Outlaws deal is that when you get into a slump it’s hard to get out of it. I think through those experiences I have kind of learned to take each race a race at a time. I now try to focus solely on that night and not worry about the next race, don’t worry about last night and I think I’ve learned to do that better. Maybe that’s age? Maybe experience? I don’t know, maybe it’s both.

Racing with Dennis really opened my eyes to learning how to race that way because I think I just got myself into such a big hole and mentally beat up from being beat every night. I hate losing at anything I do, especially something I’m doing for a living. It got to the point where we were showing up at the race track and I didn’t feel like we had a chance to win.

As a result of that deal falling apart it really made me think about my whole situation. I told myself if I ever get another ride again to try to look at it in a totally different way.

After The Beef Packers deal fell apart, Danny Lasoski was driving for the Doyle team. They let Lasoski go, or he left, either way they kind went their separate ways and that kind of left the door open for me to jump back into the Doyle ride with Paul. We finished that year up in 2008.

We were all planning to do the full ASCS National Tour the next year and then the economy started taking a turn for the worse. The Harley business took a big shot when the economy turned

Shane Stewart putting heat in the motor | Photography: Jeffrey Turford

Tough Combination

Paul and I were just sitting there trying to figure out what to do now. Silva said he’d always wanted to be a full-time car owner and that he didn’t have much, but what he did have, he thought would be good stuff.

We got together with some friends and took a trailer that he had sitting around and we gutted it. Jason Sides was there for a couple of weeks and he helped us kind of get this trailer put together. One thing that Paul is really good at is looking at something and figuring out how to make it work. We didn’t have the flashiest of rigs by any means but it worked. Dave DeWitt loaned us a truck, and we got the trailer all situated. Roger Kolb and Mark Palmero helped us out a lot. Finley Farms gave us an engine and off we went.

We barely made Devil’s Bowl but we were able to win opening night there which was a huge confidence boost for us as a team. Off we went from there and we enjoyed a lot of success in two years and won some big races.

I did well financially and Paul was gaining equity with his company but at the end of the day he still had nothing in his bank account.

Despite our success at Knoxville racing was still a huge financial burden for Paul. We had raced together for three years and we had some good sponsors but at the end of the day Paul didn’t have any money. I did well financially and Paul was gaining equity with his company but at the end of the day he still had nothing in his bank account. There were some rumors flying around that Rico (Abreu) was starting to talk to him and it was a no-brainer for Paul to go there. I don’t blame him one bit.

Once I started hearing that Paul and Rico might team up I figured it was time for me to start looking to do something else. I wasn’t sure what direction to go in. I was kind of in the same situation I was in with The Beef Packers team. There weren’t any really good teams that were
knocking on my door.

Perseverance Pays Off

However, during the later stages of racing with Paul I was able to get together with Joe Gaerte and Tim Norman. I got in their car and started running really well. I got myself introduced to a Cool Chassis. I’d ran one in Australia a long time ago, like back in ’04 with Bill Mann and liked it then but then I just kind of forgot about it. Honestly, if everything would have worked out right we would have won three Outlaws races together. We were leading races and had stuff break, we were going to win I-96 (Speedway) and ran out of fuel, just things kept happening.

I was fast, though. It seemed like wherever I went I had just enough success to keep me in people’s eyes to know that I wasn’t going to go anywhere and that I want to do this full-time. I jumped around, did the Finley deal, got hooked up with Scott McClaren and ran a few races out East. I did The Pennsylvania Speedweek with him, I did The Ohio Speedweek with Joe and Tim.

I was at a crossroads and I didn’t want to keep doing what I was doing.

I was at a crossroads and I didn’t want to keep doing what I was doing. Logistically it was a nightmare. Trying to keep everyone happy and book races was difficult. I was pretty tired. At that point I started getting phone calls. One of the phone calls was Big Game. One of the phone calls was LMR.

The toughest thing for me at the time was that I didn’t know what direction to go in. I thought it over for probably half of a season to be honest. It felt like a whole season that I was thinking about it but literally it was only a couple of months. I tried to weigh all of my options.

LMR was a new team, and I didn’t know Justin. I knew of Steve Suchy, but I didn’t really know him. I knew he was a good crew chief, but the thing is when you go into a new program you don’t know if you’re going to work well with that guy or not.

I knew that Tod (Quiring at Big Game) had been around awhile and had some good guys drive for him and that his stuff was nice.

I knew that LMR was going to have nice stuff too and that they were going to pick and choose for a season and that if everything went well they were going to do the Outlaws deal.

Larson Marks Racing Coowner; Justin Marks | Photography: Jeffrey Turford

Making a Choice

I sat down and wrote down the pros and cons of each team and I just felt like at the time my best situation and opportunity for me was to go in the direction of LMR and so far it’s paid off.

The cool thing about driving for Justin and Kyle is that they are both racers so they understand that we’re going to have bad nights. Kyle’s background in sprint car racing has taught him how tough it is to come out here and race at the level we race at. The good thing about those guys is that they are kind of like Rudeen in that they don’t micro-manage us and they let us do our job. They are always there for support, they are there to kind of slap our hands when we get off course. Justin is a great businessman and he’s really good at communicating with all of us and keeping us all grounded. Kyle’s obviously there giving support as well. Both are great guys to hang out with and both are really successful at what they do and I think that rubs off on everybody here, that part of their lives is contagious. You definitely want to live up to their expectations.

It hasn’t all been easy, though, as we’ve gone through some employee change here. I think everything happens for a reason. LMR is a great example of that. When Steve quit, everybody, including some people here weren’t really sure how the team was gonna go when we promoted Scotty Martin to crew chief. Scotty said that he was ready to go and that he was ready to do it. We gave him the reigns and haven’t looked back since.

Justin is a great businessman and he’s really good at communicating with all of us

One thing that we did at LMR was what I spoke about earlier in regards to Rudeen. We spent our first year picking and choosing races before we did the Outlaws tour full-time. As a team we tried to focus on tracks that I’m not good at that we knew we were going to have to go race. We concentrated on the East coast because I’m terrible at Williams Grove. I’m terrible at Lincoln, so we raced there as much as we possibly could.

I think that really helped me for the next season because we had good notes and I was able go quicker and quicker at all of those race tracks every time we went back. Racing those tracks that really helped my confidence a lot and when we went there the next season with the Outlaws we had a baseline and a good direction to follow.

Any time a new driver jumps in with a new team and they haven’t been on the road for a while it’s tough, really tough. I would highly recommend to any team looking to go on the road full-time with the Outlaws that they take the same approach we did.

I think the turning point for me in knowing that we’d have a lot of success with LMR was during an off-weekend. I went and ran a Cool Chassis for Miles Hill in Canada at Cornwall (Speedway) and Ohsweken (Speedway). We had a legitimate shot at winning the Outlaws race at Ohsweken but Donny passed me late in the race. After that night it was my goal to make Cool Chassis a part of LMR and this program. I knew that it was going to be a tough sell because I knew Steve really liked the direction that we were going in with The GF1 but there was something about those Cool cars that make me comfortable.

It took a lot of preaching but I knew in my heart that if I could talk everybody into just trusting me that switching chassis was going to be a good move. The first night out on a Cool we almost won the race Outlaws race at Kokomo (Speedway). We had run Ohio Speedweek the first year with LMR and kind of struggled at a few places but we went back to those same track with the Cool chassis and were one of the guys to beat. It was a huge turning point for me and I knew that going into 2015 we were going to be strong. I didn’t know how strong, but I knew that we were going to be competitive.

This time around things were more successful than my two previous attempts on the Outlaws tour. This time around there were people who really trusted me and believed in me. My maturity level and experience level are a lot higher than they were back then. I’ve been able to get through the bumps and bruises of trying to get back to here and back to this point and a lot of it was really humbling.

I’ve learned to cherish and live in each moment and not worry and stress out about little things like I used to. I just don’t think about whether or not I’m going to have a job tomorrow. I feel like if I do my job and do it well that I’m always going to have a job somewhere. Early on in my career I really, honestly stressed out about that way too much and I think it affected my racing. Today, I just don’t second guess myself, I have way more confidence in what I’m doing.

Scotty Martin runs the valves on The Larson Marks Racing no.2 | photography: Jeffrey Turford

Coming Full Circle

I think one of the main reasons I’ve stuck around though is having a lot of guts. I’ve never given up. There were some times when, trust me, I was second guessing myself what the heck I was doing because there were points in my career where I didn’t know which direction I was going to go. I didn’t know if I was going to have a job tomorrow. I was literally race by race and I think just gutting it through all of those times and believing that if someone just gave me the right opportunity with the right equipment and the backing that it takes to be successful out here that I could do that team a really good job.

It also helps to have a great group of guys around me. I work really well with all of them, we all get along away from the race track as well as at the track and that’s really hard to find. I think the camaraderie here amongst all of us is great. We’re all in a group text and we all joke around with each other and have a good time and I think that parlays into our success at the track.

I’ve been really blessed to have caught them in a time in their careers where they’re literally 100% focused on sprint car racing.

Whether or not Scotty Martin was ready to be a crew a chief he’s done a hell of a job since Steve’s been gone. The cool thing about Scotty is that he’s pretty level headed and I’m not. I think our dynamic works really well for us. It’s not that I’m a hothead but I get pretty worked up at the race track at times and he doesn’t. I think that part of his personality has been really nice to have.

He’s the first one that’s going to tell you that he’s not Karl Kinser, and I’m no Steve Kinser but I think we kind of meet in the middle and bounce ideas off each other from night to night. We have both been around sprint car racing long enough to know the rights and wrongs and when to do something or not to do something. A great example was at Volusia (Speedway Park). We struggled a little bit but we all still had great attitudes about it. We still left the race track each night thinking tomorrow was going to be a better day.

Andrew Seamans and Heath Moyle are both great workers and both have great attitudes which is really hard to come by. Our schedule is a grueling schedule to be involved in, any time you do 90 races from February to October you spend a lot of time travelling and a lot of time away from home. Those two guys are both in good situations. They don’t have wives and kids at home to worry about, and I think I’ve been really blessed to have caught them in a time in their careers where they’re literally 100% focused on sprint car racing.

I’m honestly just really happy that I’ve been able to take advantage of my situation because you do see things come together with great drivers and great crew chiefs and they don’t make it. You know, they can’t get along or they struggle a little bit, maybe the car owner isn’t happy with the way the program is headed and they fizzle away.

It’s expensive to be out here and if you’re not enjoying some success it’s easy for car owners to conclude that this is their hobby and that they like doing it but they don’t want to keep spending the money if they aren’t having a good time or having some success. As a result you see a lot of guys come in, not have the kind of success that they thought they were going to have and they fizzle away.

I just think my situation here is all I could ever ask for and we’ve had some success but of course with that success comes a little bit of pressure to keep doing it. Once you’ve had one good year you obviously want to have another good year so there is a little bit of pressure to do that again this year so hopefully we can do it all over again.

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