Now that the dust has settled on the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series I wanted to take a stab at explaining just why many Smoke fans including myself feel that Tony wasn’t given the farewell season he deserved.
When Tony announced his “retirement” (and I use that term loosely because I am sure that he will race more this year than he did last year) he made it absolutely clear that he did not want the rigmarole that Jeff Gordon was given week in and week out. He didn’t want to be drug into the media center every weekend and presented with gifts ranging from the thoughtful to the truly bizarre (not that he escaped that- since he got a bigger than life-size bobble head of himself from Texas Motor Speedway). All Tony wanted to do in his last season is what Tony has wanted to do since he got behind the steering wheel of his first goKart- he wanted to buckle in and race. And for the most part that is what he got.
His fans, however, voiced their discontent all season long about the lack of Tony recognition. Some might be thinking, well he got what he asked for. While I don’t think what a majority of fans wanted was Tony paraded through the media center pulling gifted ponies and poker tables behind him- they wanted something.
What the fans wanted, expected, hoped for were the things they saw tracks doing the year before with Jeff Gordon. Fans wanted the opportunity to feel engaged and made to feel that not just that their driver was recognized but that they had a part in that recognition. Case in point: I have no fewer than three Jeff Gordon towels each from different tracks that were dispersed to fans during the 2015 season for fans to wave during lap 24. I went to one race more in 2016 and I don’t have any Tony Stewart towels. Fans wanted to see things like a race named after him like Phoenix did for Jeff Gordon. They wanted to see Speed Limit 14 MPH when the drove around Las Vegas Motor Speedway although that would be a pretty damn slow speed limit and technically Tony wasn’t driving at Las Vegas because of his back injury. You get my drift though.
Some tracks did do things for Tony fans. Some had Tony’s likeness gracing program covers, posters, and even a coveted (normal sized) bobbleheads. But subtle signs on backstretches, wall of fame presentations and a rock in his honor not withstanding tributes denoting Tony and engaging fans in celebrating their driver were actually far and few between at the track. Fans at home missed out too- many times lap 14 was not even televised let alone mentioned showing fans standing in celebration of their beloved driver. They wanted Tony mentioned occasionally during races despite his less than stellar performances most races.
Ultimate what was missing for Tony’s NASCAR fans was the sense of community that the track promoters and sponsors created during Jeff Gordon’s farewell season. Sure they can claim it is what Tony wanted but what he wanted was to be subjected to constant distraction. What Tony fans wanted and perhaps needed by and large could have been done without going against Tony’s wishes. THAT is why SMOKE fans feel slighted by the treatment of Tony’s retirement.