Stewart's visit a big deal for area

Quick, name another professional athlete or "athlete" to compete in the F-M area in his prime?

I got stuck.

Tony Stewart’s appearance at the Red River Valley Speedway and third-place finish in the feature Wednesday night was a big deal.

I’ll use "athlete" extremely loosely here, but you get the idea. And I’ll use compete with a grain of salt because Stewart wasn’t circling Daytona on asphalt at 180 mph either.

Yes, there’s the Steve Kinsers of the world (of Outlaws) and local Donny Schatz is a huge name in racing all over as well, but the sometimes controversial Stewart has the star power to draw them in, and 8,000-plus fans just at the track certainly agree.

But lets give credit where credit is due. The West Fargo track is getting back on track, no matter Danny and Donny Schatz’s connections. The Schatzes certainly added instant credibility to the track no matter who they bring in. The family knows racing. Remember, just a few months ago the RRVS season didn’t even exist.

When Donny started racing sprint cars, I covered his first race in West Fargo in 1993. I asked local driver Mike Sitzmann what he thought of the 15-year-old and the seasoned racer said the youngster drove a real tight line, meaning if he’s on the inside groove, he’s staying there whipping his car through the turns.

You had a real good idea at that age Donny wasn’t a kid driving something he shouldn’t be. He instantly fit in and the Outlaws circuit soon followed.

Big-time sports personalities don’t do enough of this, at least not in this area. Years ago, Tom Lehman hosted his PGA Tour pals to an outing in Alexandria, Minn., but that’s as close as it gets. The Northern League has had former big-league stars come through, but "former" is the key word there. And sorry, autograph appearances don’t count.

Maybe Stewart’s appearance will make people and businesses realize that the F-M area is hungry for more of these offerings.

In any regard, it can be good business and Stewart definitely gained a more fans from this neck of the woods.