I've been sittin' here
Tryin' to find myself
I get behind myself
I need to rewind myself ...
I made a couple dollar bills,
But still I feel the same
That's Stewart. Right there. That lyric. He's really rich. He has made tens of millions of dollars racing stock cars. But fundamentally, as a person and as a racer, he belongs in the dirt, immersed in the symbolism of the struggle.
Sprint car racers are wired to focus on the right now. I wonder if, for Stewart, discussing the broken leg means the broken leg wins? Those who criticized his passion for sprint car racing earn a small victory with every comment he makes. The sprint car brain says, "Get hurt, heal up, saddle up and show that son of a bitch who's boss."
Because cowboys always get back on the horse.
I wonder what rock bottom felt like. I ask him to describe it.
"Talking about my leg over and over," he says of rock bottom. "It honestly is. I'm far enough in this process where I'm over the fact of being hurt. I'm ready for the part of getting back in a car and going and doing what I love to do."
That's why he does it. Love.
He cleanses himself with dirt.
People don't know 'bout the things I say or do
They don't understand about the s--- that I've been through
It is pure, the dirt. The dirt has no agendas. And rest assured, Stewart will continue to race sprint cars no matter how dangerous it might look to the rest of us. Last year, just before he broke his leg in two places and had three resulting surgeries, he was questioned at Pocono Raceway about priorities. He popped off that we "mere mortals" don't understand. He was right. Contextually we are mere mortals. We don't view the world like he views the world.
I wonder what the takeaway lesson for him is from this.
"There isn't one, really," he says. "It's life. It can happen driving to and from work. People get in car wrecks every day. Racing's dangerous, but no more dangerous than driving up and down city streets."
I notice a certain nonchalance about the injury that wasn't there during our conversation in the fall.
"What else are we going to say about it?" he continues. "It's just a broken leg. We meet people every week that have a heck of a lot worse than this. We've talked and talked and talked about a broken leg that I have, and we'll probably meet somebody through Make-A-Wish, an 8- or 10-year-old kid that's got it a heck of a lot worse than a broken leg, but ESPN's not sitting down and asking them about it, what they're going through every day.
"They've got it a lot worse than I've got it. This is a broken leg that'll heal, and six months from now we'll talk about what it was back a year ago. It's a broken leg. It'll heal. It's bone. It'll heal. The muscles will heal, the blood vessels will heal, the nerves will heal, and we'll go on."
As the new season dawns, he says with conviction that he's 65 percent healthy. The truest step forward comes in the form of the Daytona 500, where that broken right leg will anchor an antsy right foot buried heavy in the throttle for four straight hours. To manage that physical challenge, Stewart requested that his team construct a driving compartment.