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Memories Of A Chance Meeting With ‘Smoke’ At Inlet’s Old Barn

Keith James

Like you, I awoke this morning to news (and subsequent harsh public opinion) that Tony Stewart struck and killed fellow driver and local Port Leyden native, Kevin Ward during a dirt track race while Kevin was trying to confront him for spinning him out. While the authorities sort out that story, I’d like to share with you about my brush with the accused driver.

Back in the winter of 2011, my band Showtime and I played at a weekend snowmobile race called SNODEO in Old Forge. This event happens to attract several NASCAR racers too, and that year one of the celebrity drivers was Smoke, himself.

As the band played I remember distinctly when we jumped into Toto’s ‘Africa’ that Tony turned his head to us in recognition and that was the only time he did that as he was seated facing the opposite direction.


Keith James

After the show was over, I passed by the pool table where Tony happened to have been playing a round with a less than fortunate opponent. I grabbed a picture with him an had a conversation about that moment that he turned around and he said it’s not everyday that you hear a band covering that song period, much less doing it well. I kick myself to this day for not challenging him to a billiards duel that night before I left, but attracting his praise (from a guy who has a rep for not passing out any) is good enough for me.

He and I also share a love of aviation although he’s a far more accomplished pilot than I am (at pool too in sorry to admit, maybe that’s why I didn’t unite him to a match!)

While this morning’s news is tragic and it seems to fit the M.O. Of NASCAR’s token hothead, I’m going to assume it was an accident and will withhold judgement until an actual judge rules on the matter. Thoughts and prayers to BOTH families and all others affected.

Next: The Legend And Tragedy Of Richie Evans

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