Tony Stewart is a busy man with far-flung interests. The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driving champion still is a top-flight driver, and he owns race teams and race tracks, promotes an automotive trade show and even operates a deer habitat in his native Indiana through a joint venture with Mississippi State University.
And Stewart still has a huge passion for vintage and collector cars.
"I've probably got about 12 or 14 collector cars right now," says Stewart. "I wish I could say I knew every detail about every one of them, but every one of the cars I've got, it's something that I walked by and it caught my eye. There are still a lot of cars that are on the list of things I want to get for the collection, but I really don't have a building big enough to put everything I've got in already."
Stewart's specific tastes these days run the gamut - he has several custom rides from the 1950s and '60s, as well as some late-model muscle cars.
"I've got a '50 Mercury lead sled, I've got a '55 Chevy Nomad wagon, a '56 Chevy short bed pickup truck, a '57 Chevy Bel Air, a '63 Ford Galaxie, a '67 Pontiac GTO, a '79 "Smokey & The Bandit" edition Trans Am, an H2 Hummer with new wheels, new grille, that's all pimped out," he says. "I've got a 50th anniversary Corvette, a yellow 2002 Trans Am from the last year they made them. We've got the Corvette from the 2007 Brickyard (Indianapolis 500)."
Still high on the list of cars Stewart is hunting are two Chevrolets from 1971, the year he was born: a primo Corvette and a Camaro to go with it.
Although a busy racing schedule doesn't allow Stewart much time to attend automotive events, the one big show he tries to make as often as possible is the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Event in Scottsdale, Ariz., each January.
"Barrett-Jackson is like Kryptonite to me," says Stewart. "When I go, I'm going to buy something. There's always something when you go out there that you see. You make a lap then you make a lap again and by the third day, you've stopped at the same car three times and you go home and you think about it. And you're looking at it in the book and by the fourth day, you're like, 'I can't not have this car.' So you hope that when it comes time for the bidding, you get it."
Stewart's advice to collectors? Educate yourself before you buy. And if you are buying a car for investment purposes, make sure it's a car with the original engine, transmission and rear end, referred to in the business as a "matching-numbers" car.
"The thing about the collector-car market, cars will get hot for a couple of years, and then it seems like something else will get hot," says Stewart. "At the end of the day, as far as cars that are matching numbers and have been restored correctly, those cars hold their value for a long time. When it comes to custom cars, it's not so much what are they worth, it's what are they worth to the buyers? There's no real rhyme or reason for custom cars.
"There are guys out there who are really sharp about buying cars and if you can find one of those guys and get some tips from them, that's what I'd recommend. There are a lot of guys who are a lot smarter than me who really know the collector-car market."