It's not every day in motor sports that you see the owner of a racing series strap in and put the hammer down full throttle with the tour's drivers.
It's also not every day that you see one of the most recognizable figures in all of sports in America mashing the accelerator of an ultra-tough race car at a county fairgrounds bullring.
Such will be the case in both instances on Friday night, as Lincoln Speedway welcomes NASCAR great Tony Stewart’s Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.
Stewart himself will arrive with the tour, helmet in hand and ready to put his foot to the floor of a 1,375-pound winged sprint car that will be propelled around a quarter-mile dirt oval by a staggering, 975-horsepower motor.
To the delight of Central Illinois racing fans, Stewart and the Arctic Cat drivers will repeat the process on Saturday night on the slightly smaller, 1/5th-mile Macon Speedway.
Both tracks are promoted by Bob Sargent's Track Enterprises. Both are flush with excitement for the arrival of Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.
"We can't wait for this weekend to arrive," said Adam Mackey, operations manager for Track Enterprises at Lincoln and Macon. "The Arctic Cat (series) put on a great show last year at Lincoln. When you throw Macon in the mix, as well as have Tony Stewart racing a sprint car on both nights, what more could you ask for?"
Last year's Arctic Cat All-Star race at Lincoln — the first for the series at the track — was won by Sheldon Haudenschild, a scion of sprint car racing royalty.
Haudenschild blasted past young Parker Price-Miller on a late restart to score the win. He won't be back to defend his victory, having moved full time into the World of Outlaws Sprint Car ranks.
Price-Miller, however, will be in Lincoln hoping to atone for "one that got away."
"The car got really tight because the track started taking rubber and we had it set up for a slick track," Price-Miller told The Pantagraph this week. "Sheldon got by me on that restart and he was just better than us that night."
Better at the end, anyway. Earlier in the evening, Price-Miller, 19, set the Lincoln Speedway track qualifying record and won the dash before leading most of the main event.
Although Price-Miller hails from Indiana, Friday's race will be a "home track" reunion for his team as car owner Justin Agee and crew chief Levi Curry are from Lincoln.
Along with crew member Brayden McMahan of Nashville, Tenn., the group joined forces a year ago to unseat perennial champion Jerrod Hull from the regional MOWA sprint car series throne before considerably upping the ante.
Armed with momentum from a series title, Agee and the trio decided to jump into the deep end. Hence, they began the year on the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car tour.
"We decided we needed to race a lot more and see other parts of the country and different tracks," Price-Miller said of joining the most powerful and lucrative dirt track racing series in the world, a heady endeavor for a teenage driver and his 20-year old crew chief.
They began doubting themselves when they struggled in the early going against the tour's regulars during a West Coast swing.
"Our confidence got knocked down when we were a long way from home and weren't doing so hot," Price-Miller said.
Qualifying for the main event on back-to-back nights at Devil's Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas — the birthplace of the World of Outlaws organization — served as a bit of a pick-me-up on the way back home.
A month later in Plymouth, Ind., Price-Miller set fast time in qualifying for the Outlaws race. He then turned the tables on Haudenschild in the Outlaws main event at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind.
Inheriting the lead when Haudenschild spun in lapped traffic, Price-Miller then held off five-time feature winner David Gravel to become a World of Outlaws race winner just a week before his 19th birthday.
Price-Miller said the experience gained in the early-season losses had paid off, regardless of how discouraging they could be.
"We knew going into the season we were going to get our butt kicked," he said. "But the experience of racing every night at that level made me a better driver, made the car better and made us better as a team."
Driver, car and team will need to be in tip-top shape Friday to fend off Stewart and the Arctic Cat regulars at Lincoln. Veteran Chad Kemenah of Ohio leads the series standings heading into Friday's race.
Spectator gates will open at 4 p.m. with racing at 7. Tickets are $30 and sold on a first-come, first served basis.