Nascar’s reigning Sprint Cup champion enjoys slowing down from time to time to hunt on his Indiana farm.
Question: How’d you get interested in the outdoors?
Answer: When I raced in the Indy Racing League [mid-1990s], my roommate was one of the crew members of the team, and he was a fisherman. We’d take our tackle and our gear on the road, and whenever we’d pass a pond or a lake, we’d try to get out and take some time to fish.
Question: What are your earliest memories of hunting?
Answer: I grew up in a town, so I never really knew anybody that had a lot of land, never really knew anybody outside of town. So I didn’t grow up hunting or fishing.
I actually didn’t get into hunting until I met John Morris [owner] of Bass Pro Shops through our racing sponsorships. When I was older and racing, I bought a big plot of land and invited him over one day. He looked at the land and said that I had a great spot, great for deer. So he helped me with the land there, and helped me really start managing it. That’s actually how I got into hunting.
Question: And you’ve taken terminally-ill kids onto that property for hunts. How did that come about? ****
Answer: We figured it’d a shame to have that much land and not do something meaningful like that with it.
We had our foundation, the Tony Stewart Foundation [which donates funds to terminally ill kids], and we wanted to find a way to take my land and work with the Catch-A-Dream foundation [which takes terminally-ill kids on outdoor adventures]. So, we partnered together for the program. We wanted to take the kids and their families out there, and let them forget about what’s bothering them for the day and go on a great hunt, get a buck or a doe. And it has been so great for them–we give them gifts, we have cooks for them, it’s lot of fun for everyone, and it’s a great feeling.
Question: Since you didn’t grow up hunting, did you have any initial perceptions about it, or any misconceptions?
Answer: I always thought hunting was the thing that only redneck kids did. But when I started getting into it and doing it, I realized it’s all kinds of people–people who wear business suits during the week, people who have all sorts of jobs. It’s all kinds of people who enjoy going hunting and fishing. And there’s also the land management side. There’s so much more to being a hunter than shooting the animal, there’s so much more to fishing than catching a fish. It’s really about the camaraderie, and the work. That’s what I enjoy. That’s what’s meaningful to me.
Question: Any other favorite places to hunt?
****Answer: Well, I’m very partial to my own land. We work all year to develop our food plots, and like I said we work with Mississippi State University on the deer management. We’re trying to make the property as good as possible, and we work hard at it. And doing all the work on the land actually makes me want to go out there and sit in a treestand and just watch the deer. It makes me want to see how they’re reacting to everything, even if I’m not hunting them.
Question: Do a lot of other hunters hunt there as well?
Answer: Well, also, we were talking with a soldier one day about the property in Indiana, and he said he’d love to come out there and see it sometime. So we got the idea to take military veterans, injured vets, out for hunts as well. From there, it just turned into something else we’ve been doing with the land, in addition to the kids’ hunts.
Question: Do you eat everything you hunt on the property?
Answer: We absolutely eat everything we hunt. And we do more than that. About four years ago, there was really bad flooding in Columbus, Indiana. So we went out and hunted, and we donated all of that meat to the people who had lost their homes in the flooding.
Question: Most memorable hunts–on the property or elsewhere?
Answer: I’m not a veteran hunter by any means–I’m still new. I have a lot to learn. But I’ve killed a lot of practice targets [laughs]. And I did get my first buck and doe a few years ago.
Question: What was that feeling like?
Answer: Oh man, it was so exciting.
Question: Parallels between that–getting a buck–and your ‘day job’?
Answer: I’m in a sport [racing] where adrenaline is going all the time, so to sit up in a treestand, where it’s all about being calm and slow movements, it’s different. But it’s still just as strategic as racing. And when I saw my first buck, my heart was beating so fast. And when I actually got my first buck, it was just like winning a race–I was so excited. I called all of my friends right away, ‘I got my first buck!'”
Question: Those are always good stories to hear–the “first buck stories.” Are those the kinds of stories you like to read in hunting magazines, or do you prefer the how-to/tactical stuff?
Answer: I like individual stories about hunts. I like reading what people were experiencing and what they were expecting. I think it’s all because my background is so different from a lot of hunters–growing up, I was never been involved in the outdoors. My father was always a gearhead; we never went hunting or fishing together. So, it’s always interesting for me to hear people’s stories about their hunts.
Question: How do you balance racing and traveling with managing the land, and with hunting and fishing there?
Answer: Balancing everything is a challenge. Work [racing, etc] comes first. But when I get a day off, I know I always have my place in Indiana. It’s always there, it’s always ready. I have a couple from Alabama who maintain the property when I travel, so if I’m ever unable to get up there to be with the kids [on the foundation youth hunts], the land is still always ready.