Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Smoke" is no joke

* Tony Stewart will become a NASCAR owner/driver this afternoon in Chicago, officially announcing his intentions to partner up with Haas-CNC Racing. We've known this was coming down the pike for a while, and it comes to fruition in Joliet, Illinois, at Chicagoland Speedway.

David Poole of the Charlotte Observer wrote in his column today that Stewart is stepping into some choppy waters as an owner/driver, based on stats that say that combination (being an owner/driver) has a low success rate. The numbers certainly suggest that it's a struggle to be competitive and successful both on and off the track in that dual role.

I say Stewart will do more than meet this challenge. He may very well become the modern day Lee Petty.

Now before I begin to list the reasons why, in the interest of disclosure, I have never been a "fan" of Stewart in the sense of wearing his gear, buying memorabilia, and only recently have I shopped at Home Depot (they had a great deal on hardwood flooring, and I couldn't pass it up). Normally I am a Lowe's guy (and I do like Jimmie Johnson).

Back to the topic--Stewart, like every driver in the series CARES about winning and being successful. Stewart sets himself apart from the others in this, because he not only cares, he lives and dies with racing. I said it on Sports Night on Wednesday, that Stewart is likely the most talented driver in the series. Period. Jeff Gordon, Johnson, Kyle Busch aside, Stewart can out-drive them all. Stock car, Indy car, modifieds, lawn tractors, you name it.

The passion to race burns so deeply and so strongly in Stewart, that a bad result eats at him more than anything, and to his credit, he's done a very good job of being a professional on the outside. Remember, a bad result is a finish less than he should expect given his equipment. If he has a great car, he expects to win. If his car is a little off, his expectations drop. Stewart gives credit to his team for fighting the good fight, and adjusting the car. He will do what he can to take a 9th place car, and bring it home 9th or better. If he fails in that mission, it's on him, and he's the one laying the blame.

Stewart will succeed as an owner/driver because he tries the hardest at not failing. Failure is not an option for him in anything. Now, he will be the guy responsible for signing the checks. HIS name goes on the marquis outside the shop. HIS name is on the signature line of that check. HIS reputation as an owner is now on the line. Stewart will protect his name and reputation with the same fire that he takes into the car each weekend. This will be fun to watch, and I gotta tell ya, I'm rooting for him to blaze the trail into owner/driver race success.

* Had the chance to visit with Omar Gaither on Wednesday night, at the AMF Lanes on South Boulevard. Gaither is as close to a "News 14 Baby" as you can get. When we opened our doors in June of 2002, we turned a story on Gaither, as he prepared to leave for Tennessee to play football. The Myers Park High School star was going to the SEC to ply his trade, get an education, and make his way in life. After college, he was selected in the 5th round of the NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, and jumped in as a starter for the birds.

The best part about Omar is that he has only changed his appearance--he's gotten bigger and stronger. He is still the same person that he was when he left Myers Park to go to school. Success hasn't changed him--he still has that wonderful work ethic, that same smile, that same laugh, and that same confidence. He began a project called "Sports Fest," and the first event was a fun bowling/poker game--players earned cards for strikes and spares, and the cards were then used to make their best poker hand to win prizes. Myers Park supporters and coaches were on hand, along with a few of Omar's NFL friends. He's starting to give back to the community, and I hope this is something that continues for him. Omar, ya done good.

You can find out more about Gaither and his soon to be announced foundation at

* Davidson Baseball Coach Dick Cooke will be a guest on Sports Night tonight at 10. Coach Cooke is looking ahead to the Beijing Olympics, and we'll talk about the upcoming games.

Hope you'll check us out!

Mike Solarte

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