NASCAR Bad Boy Tony Stewart Settles Down

Feb. 19, 2006 — -- Two-time NASCAR cup champion Tony Stewart is passionate, fiery and sometimes honest to a fault.

"There's not too many mellow things about me," he said.

Those qualities have sometimes gotten him in trouble. He had a series of collisions with the media, fans, fellow drivers, including Jeff Gordon, and even his own crew.

"I didn't like who I was as a person," he said.

Recently, Stewart has made some significant changes in his life.

Poised to race in today's Daytona 500, Stewart is hoping that his new, more laid-back approach will pay off in the form of victory.

By all accounts, Stewart is one of the best drivers on the road today. He stared racing go-karts when he was 8, and worked his way up to midgets, then sprint cars, then finally Indy cars. He was named NASCAR's Rookie of the Year in 1999.

"When we started, they praised us so much because we were so honest about everything, and we didn't hide in that shell that drivers normally hide in," he said. "And then we finally got in some controversial situations, and it turned around and bit us."

Stewart, known as "Smoke," is the first to admit that his bad temper on and off the track has gotten him in to trouble.

"It just got to the point to where if I didn't figure out something soon, I may not have had a job," he said.

A Homecoming

He saw a psychologist for anger management and made the decision to move from the fishbowl of stock car racing's capitol, Charlotte, N.C., to the comfort of his hometown, Columbus, Ind.

There, he reconnected with old friends, bought a dog and moved back into his childhood home two blocks from his old high school, where the soda machine now bears his photo.

"Being home and being in the atmosphere of the place you grew up, that just made me more comfortable," he said. "I'm just a lot happier, I think."

"When he comes home, he truly comes home to people that know him, accept him as just Tony, not Tony the celebrity, Tony the race driver," said his mother, Pam Boas. "He's just Tony."

The move paid off. Just nine months later, he won the biggest race of his life at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Stewart also won the Sentimental Brickyard 400 and went on to win the 2005 NASCAR Championship -- a victory he credited to Columbus.

"Did it put me in a frame of mind to put myself in a position to where I could help the race team and be more productive as a driver? Absolutely," he said. "I was excited, I was refreshed, I was ready to go, I was ready to work."

Stewart seems poised to go down as one of the greatest drivers of all time, and hopes to win the Daytona 500.

Despite his recent mellowing, Stewart, who hopes to someday marry and raise a family, still has his quirks. He owns a pet tiger called Tangie and a monkey called Mojo.

"I'm a 15-year-old trapped in a 34-year-old body," he said.

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