LAKEVILLE, Ind. -- Robert Newton, a philanthropist and the founder of a company that produced tires for NASCAR cars, has died. He was 85.
Newton's Hoosier Racing Tire began as an operation in an old horse barn half a century ago, and it started supplying tires to NASCAR teams in the 1980s. Newton died Wednesday after dealing with the effects of a stroke he suffered last year, the Lakeville, Ind.-based company said.
NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who had been sponsored by Hoosier Racing Tire for years, called Newton a "great guy."
"The thing about Bob is he always cared about the racers more than he cared about himself. There are a lot of companies that you see in these garage areas that don't think that way," Stewart said Friday at the Dover International Speedway in Delaware. "He was just a great person. He was a great father to his family."
Newton was a farmer and small-town stock car racer in the 1950s when he set out to build better racing tires, first by re-treading street tires with softer compounds.
"Bob was a racer always," friend Irish Saunders told the South Bend Tribune. "And every race he had an excuse. For Bob, it was his tires."
Cars fitted out with Hoosier Racing tires won nine races in 1988, and Geoff Bodine won four races in 1994 with Newton's tires in 1994, the company said. The company dropped out of NASCAR in the 1990s and more recently has concentrated on the Rolex Sports Car Series, NHRA and IHRA circuits.
Newton and his wife, Joyce, donated land to build Newton Park, a large complex for youth sports in Lakeville, about 10 miles south of South Bend. Newton also was responsible for renovating the old Lakeville School and donating it to a nonprofit organization, and helping Lakeville United Methodist Church build a wing.
His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Lakeville.