Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tony Stewart's 11,000 Pound Friend


TonyStewart.GreenFlag.MDoran
Tony’s new friend Osh kicked off the countdown by passing Stewart the official green flag.

NASCAR’s Tony Stewart visits Northern California Zoo

Thursday March 24, 2011 was a cool day in the City by the Bay but hearts were warmed with a visit from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver, Tony Stewart. It was a day not just for the media but for the fans as well, to get a glimpse of the two time Cup Series winner completely out of his element. A day they will not soon forget. 

Stewart entered the zoo a racecar driver, once inside, became a zoo-keeper, ready for his work behind the scenes at the Northern California zoo. Tony’s first opportunity came in the form of an 11,000 lb male elephant. The two were introduced by the zoo’s Elephant Manager Jeff Kinzley.

Tony the Tiger worked side by side with Jeff as they performed the normal everyday care that goes into keeping Osh the elephant happy and healthy. Tasks included a pedicure, mouth check and finally, feeding him lunch.
2011 Infineon March Winners Circle TonyStewart Feeding Osh Mike Doran

That’s a pretty incredible animal, and this is like nothing I’ve ever done,” said the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing. “It didn’t take long to realize how much respect you have to have for that animal.”


Jeff Kinzley, Elephant Manager, says of Stewart, “Tony was a true star with Osh, just like he is on the track.”

During Stewart's time at the Zoo, he was able to acquaint himself with a few other creatures such as seen below.                                                                        
2011 IR Mar Tony Stewart Skink

2011 IR Mar Tony Stewart Boa
Credit: Mike Doran

After spending time with the animals, (and learning their language), Tony the zookeeper, finished with his assigned media duties, and was able to sit down and spend some time with the younger fans who asked some great questions of their hero. Against the original plans for the event, Tony being the fan friendly driver he is, Tony took time out to sign autographs as well.

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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

One of the first youngsters asked, “How many races have you won altogether?” Tony responded,”I have no idea”. Then next he was asked, "What is it like on a racetrack?” Stewart replied, “It depends on who you’re around! Sometimes its like being with that elephant. You have no idea what they’re going to do or where they’re going to go. With other drivers you’re very comfortable when they’re around. You know what they’re going to do. You can’t do that unless you have a lot of respect for each other.”

Perhaps most relevant to the times, a young voice asked “Has anyone ever teased you on the track?” Tony replied, thoughtfully, with a grin, “They’ve tried! It normally doesn’t work out too well for them.”
Then one of the final questions asked was,”What kind of animal are you like on the track?” With that recognizable Stewart smile, he replied, "Probably a combination. Sometimes I’m really aggressive, like a tiger. Then other times I’m like that tortoise and I’d like to hide. But then there are other times when I’m like that snake and I’d like to choke someone!”

With around 100 fans in attendance, Tony also released information on the new 2011 ticket package that Infineon Raceway has in place for NASCAR’s upcoming Toyota/Save Mart 350 in June. For just $114 the purchaser will receive tickets for both Saturday and Sunday’s races. Also included are passes to attend the special Q & A session in hospitality area, Club 7 with Stewart himself. With portions of the ticket proceeds to benefit the Tony Stewart Foundation.

Tony said the following of the Infineon track: “I always enjoy going to Sonoma. It’s not only a beautiful area, but I always enjoy the road courses. The competition is getting better and better on the road courses, and I can honestly say there are 12-15 guys who can go home with a win.”

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Stewart, who has two wins in Sonoma (2002, ’05), will return in June. NASCAR will make its last visit of the season to California’s Infineon Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350. Tickets, including the Trackside with Tony package, are available by calling 800-870-RACE or at www.infineonraceway.com.

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