Fans come from far and wide to meet NASCAR driver Tony Stewart Popular pit stop

Lacy Hill was so nervous, her hands shook. Her sister, Cori, told her to stop shaking. “It’s just Tony Stewart,” she said.

Lacy Hill was so nervous, her hands shook. Her sister, Cori, told her to stop shaking. “It’s just Tony Stewart,” she said.

Lacy and Cori had driven three hours from Moses Lake to meet her favorite NASCAR driver, Tony Stewart, who made an appearance at the Home Depot store in Covington on Wednesday.

“He’s kind of like an idol to me,” Lacy Hill said. “It’s hard to explain.”

This was Hill’s first time meeting a celebrity. Understandably, she had butterflies about the occasion, especially considering Stewart’s racing exploits during the past year have helped Hill cope with lung disease.

“I’m not sure why I latched onto him,” she said. “I think it’s because of all the good things he does for people.”

Hill was near the front of a line that went several-hundred deep, some of whom had waited since the early-morning hours to first get a wrist band, then eventually get a few precious moments with their hero.

Stewart makes appearances like this weekly on behalf of his sponsors, which includes Home Depot.

Austin Williams, 14, and his mom, Keri, drove up from Tacoma. They left around 6 a.m. to make sure they got a spot in line.

“I heard about it from my mom. She found it on the Internet,” Austin said. “I’ve been a NASCAR fan and Tony Stewart fan since 2002.”

His mother said they’ve been to the three races at the track in Fontana, Calif., which is where Stewart would be going to race next on Sunday. During one of those trips, they got to meet driver Michael Waltrip, so this wasn’t a totally new experience for mom and son.

At the front of the line inside the store, a group of five guys from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho were first in line after driving more than four hours to be there. John King, who did the bulk of the driving, said they’d been planning the expedition to meet Stewart for more than eight months. His buddy, Jim Peters, who is wheelchair bound, found out about Stewart’s stop in Covington and suggested driving out. Since this is as close as the two-time Cup Series champion is going to get to them, they decided to make the trip.

Peters, who also was nervous, once met legendary racer Mario Andretti, but he said Stewart is something different. A photo of Stewart with Dale Earnhardt Jr., another popular NASCAR driver, was perched on his lap on top of some other souvenirs he brought in the hope of getting them signed.

“Hopefully someday I can get (Earnhardt) to sign it, too,” Peters said. “I’ve got all his stuff.”

Stewart said he felt like he was in a whirlwind, and that it still surprises him the lengths fans will go in order to meet him.

“We don’t think about it because it’s what we do every week. It’s fun hearing what time people get here to be first in line,” Stewart said. “It amazes me, even after 10 years in the Cup Series, how far people come to see me.”

Just outside the door where fans would enter the store to wait to meet Stewart stood Christine Baker, clutching her Tony Stewart Build-A-Bear that sister, Teresa Stanley, got her for Christmas last year. Baker drove from Marysville, while her sister made the trek from Cour d’Alene.

“We figured, what the heck,” Baker said. “The first time I watched a race with my sister I didn’t know who to root for. She’s a Tony Stewart fan. I’ve been a Tony Stewart fan ever since.”

The drive was worth it, she said, describing this as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Stanley brought her daughter Megan, 9, who “has been a Tony fan since she was born.”

As Stanley walked away from the exit, she squealed in delight, while Megan, in her kid-size orange Tony Stewart t-shirt, waved and said, “’Bye, Tony!”

For Hill, the moment was all she could have hoped for. She lingered for a few moments, taking snapshots of Stewart.

“I’m near tears,” she said.

As King and the rest of the crew from Idaho strolled out, looking as if they were on cloud nine, he exclaimed, “Tony was awesome!”

Fans brought a whole slew of things to have autographed, like posters, hats, shirts and jackets. One man brought a chunk of the front panel of Stewart’s car that he wrecked when he crashed into Jimmie Johnson’s car at the Daytona 500 in 2005. Another fan brought a tiny beagle puppy and asked Stewart to pose for a photo with it.

A girl had a pack of note cards she picked up at the Dollar Store in Covington that came with a special writing instrument. Writing on the black cards came out multi-color, like tye die, but in reverse. Stewart remarked he’d never signed anything like that before. He smiled and said, “Thank you, sweetheart.”

Stewart’s nickname is Smoke, a moniker he’s had for more than a decade, and his car number is 20. So, when another fan handed him a set of vanity license plates that said SMOKE20 on them, he signed them both to make them the ultimate in personalized tags.

Following the public event, Stewart spent another 30 minutes signing autographs for store employees, posed for photos and met with Covington Mayor Margaret Harto, who gave him a city of Covington ball cap and thanked him for visiting.

“It’s beautiful here,” Stewart told Harto. “If the weather’s like this every day, I think I’m going to move here.”

Then everyone got a surprise when Jonathan Hillstrand, a boat captain on the Discovery Channel’s reality series “Deadliest Catch,” showed up to say “Hi” to Stewart. Hillstrand said he lives just up the road from the store and decided to stop by.

Stewart has visited the area before with race car driver Kasey Kahne, an Enumclaw native, as well as other trips as part of his contractual obligations but it seems like he doesn’t mind.

Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and