The thing about Jim Stewart is, he actually loves Crown Royal. Like, it's a huge part of his life. Like, I've never heard of anyone to whom Crown Royal is so important.
Stewart, of course, is the name behind this weekend's NASCAR race. Officially, it's known as "Crown Royal presents the Jim Stewart 400." Stewart's victory in the "Your Name Here 400" contest landed him stories in USA Today and the New York Times, a few dozen media interviews and this week's press tour in New York. He'll be the "start your engines" guy before the race, he'll wave the green flag, and he'll help present the trophy in victory lane.
He's just a fan who won a contest, is how most of the stories and press releases go. They say how he's a 34-year old executive of a pipeline construction company from Houma, La. They say how out of 15,000 entries, he was one of nine finalists based on his video description of a "CROWN-WORTHYâ„¢" moment, and how he was then randomly selected as the winner. When I talked with Jim Stewart on the phone this afternoon, he was exceedingly complimentary toward Crown Royal, which I figured was because he was so appreciative of this opportunity, or possibly because Crown Royal staffers were jabbing hot pokers into his forehead. But then, for the heck of it, I called his fiance, Lacie Broussard, and I realized that Crown Royal hit the mega jackpot when Jim Stewart won.
Like, his "CROWN-WORTHYâ„¢" moment wasn't just about fishing with his dad, the way some of the stories said. It was about the time he christened his new fishing boat the "Crown Time," which is what his dad's boat had also been called, because when dad got off work and was ready to relax, that was known among family and friends as "Crown Time." Really. And when Jim Stewart and his crew christened that boat, they used a bottle of Crown Royal instead of champagne, and "when we actually broke it across the boat, a few of the guys actually had mixed feelings about that," Jim Stewart told me. "They were like 'Wait a minute, that's some good Crown'."
Also, Jim Stewart hadn't exactly planned on entering this contest, his fiance told me. His 16-year-old son, Hunter, had wanted to enter a different contest at Talladega, one in which you decorate your tailgate in honor of Crown Royal. As you've no doubt guessed, Jim Stewart's mom had hand-quilted Crown Royal quilts for many of her relatives, out of the purple Crown Royal bags. "It's a very lengthy process," Broussard told me, which I don't doubt.
So young Hunter was using one of these quilt to decorate the tailgate, and then the Crown Royal people saw someone else wearing a "Crown Time" shirt and thought maybe someone from this particular tailgate should enter their contest, and Jim Stewart--wearing his "Crown Time" visor--was beckoned from the back, where he had been entertaining clients. At the time, he was trying to hide his fingers, because his nails were painted orange, in honor of their special drink, "Jim's Juice," an orange daiquiri. Made with Crown Royal, naturally.
Anyhow, now Jim Stewart's name is on the race. He's competed in some pro-division fishing competitions, but when I asked him what he was most famous for before this event, this is what he said: "Um, nothing really."
"You're sitting there saying, 'I'm not going to win, I'm not going to win,' trying to prepare yourself for not winning," he told me. "And then bam, you win. It was surreal. There was no way for me to take in all that was happening at that particular moment. It was overwhelming."
Still, despite the press, Broussard told me that nothing's really changed in their lives, that they're still tickled about this whole thing, that next week they might put up a few shelves for some Jim Stewart memorabilia but that's about it. After this weekend, they have to start planning their wedding. I asked if it might be called "The Jim Stewart Wedding Presented by Crown Royal." She laughed.
"I'm sure that's going to be included somewhere along the way," she said. "We don't go anywhere without it."
Maybe the staffers with the hot pokers had gotten to her, too.