• WHEN: Friday. Midway opens at 1 p.m. Practices and heat races at 6, with main event to follow.
• MAIN EVENT: The grand opening of the 99 Dirt Track at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds will feature NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and the World of Outlaws.
• TICKETS: dirtcar.ticketforce.com
• MORE INFO: Visit stockton99.com
STOCKTON – Carol Noceti and the staff at Stockton 99 Speedway are starting to feel the heat.
Noceti, the wife of Speedway owner and promoter Tony Noceti, spent most of her Wednesday afternoon buried in a sea of merchandise.
“I need some young eyes over here,” the Manteca native said, signaling for help with an inventory numbering in the tens of thousands.
Smoke is coming.
NASCAR driver Tony Stewart will join the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series on Friday evening, turning circles around the Speedway’s new dirt track at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds.
Stewart will be in Fontana this weekend for the Auto Club 400.
“He actually contacted us and wanted to race against the World of Outlaws,” Tony Noceti told a correspondent with the Sacramento Bee.
“Ticket sales were already strong because of the Outlaws, and it’s our grand opening. But when we announced that Stewart would race, too, well, sales went through the roof.”
The 99 Dirt Track is the latest addition to the Speedway’s family of tracks. The 3/8-mile oval was carved into the infield of the fairgrounds’ horse racing track.
It promises to be fast and action-packed with speeds in excess of 115 mph, but its debut will likely be overshadowed by Stewart.
The three-time Sprint Cup champion ranks among NASCAR’s most popular drivers for reasons just like this: He regularly brings his celebrity and talent to the community tracks.
Stewart was third on Forbes’ list of highest-paid drivers with earnings of $18.7 million in 2012, including $6 million in endorsements and licensing rights. He was also second in merchandise sales.
His stardom will light up the dirt track on Friday evening. The midway will open at 1 p.m. Practices, heat races and qualifying will begin at 6 o’clock with the main event to follow.
“We know the impact is going to be massive,” World of Outlaws Vice President of Public Relations Chris Dolack said. “We’ve seen the ticket sales. The turnout will be huge. Stockton is going to be pretty hard to get a ticket if you wait until race day. There are very few seats left.”
This isn’t a marketing ploy, though Noceti is paying Stewart an appearance fee. Stewart will arrive in Stockton with a singular focus: To take the checkered flag.
This is his third season affiliated with the series, Dolack said, and he finished in the top-35 in points in 2012.
He has wins at the Ohsweken (near Toronto) and Lernerville (Pennsylvania) speedways.
“He’s won in every type of car out there and he’s come back to race with World of Outlaws the last three years,” Dolack said. “It’s something he has a passion for; something he loves to do, no doubt.”
“Like any other racer, he shows up to win,” he added. “He doesn’t show up to run in the back. He shows up because he wants to win.”
Stewart doesn’t have to look far for competition. He might not even be the best open-wheel driver in his garage.
Donny Schatz is the defending World of Outlaws champion, a feat he’s accomplished five times over.
Still, that’s nothing compared to teammate Steve Kinser, whose legacy is dipped in gold. One of the original Outlaws, Kinser has won more than 570 races and is a 20-time series champion.
Stewart, a product of open-wheel racing, owns both of their cars.
“He’s helped them out, because he gives good feedback to the crew,” Dolack said. “Really, he’s more than a car owner – he’s a teammate. For those guys, that’s what they appreciate. He’s not just a superstar coming in to garner all the attention.
“He’s almost become a part of that group, to some extent. When he’s in the pits, he’s one of the guys.”