by Christiaan Sorensen
Ed Stewart is living a dream. No, he doesn’t play professional sports. He’ll never be confused for a super model and he wasn’t born into riches. During the day, Ed is a weed abatement manager for several southern Orange County cities, San Juan Capistrano, Laguna Beach and San Clemente. He sees to the landscapes of these cities to ensure that they are aesthetically pleasing to the community and up to city codes as well.
His alter ego, however, lives a life extraordinary.
Stewart races dune buggies all over the country and even, at times, out of the country with his friends. He doesn’t race to satisfy a sponsor, or to pay his daughter’s college loans off. He races because he likes to. Racing is Ed’s release, his love. After meeting him and hearing what he has to say about racing itself and how much fun he has participating in these competitions, it’s easy to understand why Ed Stewart is not only a stand-out San Clemente citizen, but one who is also LIVING A DREAM.
As Ed tells it, the story started when he was young Mr. Stewart, 15-years-old. Born and raised in Lake Elsinore, CA, his first fling with adrenaline was boat racing. Drag boat racing was his thing, and he traveled from California to Texas to Hawaii to race his own boat on his own dime, just for the rush and the chance to be doing something he liked to do. The boat racing lasted for some time, and he placed well enough in some races to have a name in the industry.
Nonetheless, Stewart has gained most of his notoriety here in town for his success in the forum of dune buggy racing. Class 1 Unlimited Buggies, to be precise. These vehicles have a top speed of well over 100mph, go over rocks the size of some cars, and fly through gullies like they are paved super-highways. The buggies have a 23-inch travel on the wheels, which mean they have almost two feet of clearance to use to go over, through or around things. Most races include a 300-mile trek through areas that most SUV’s can’t even consider crossing. Yet, Ed can be seen as a blur passing over terrain that should be navigated at modest speeds at best.
Stewart has been racing Class 1 Buggies for 5 years now, and he has the luxury of picking and choosing the races he wants to participate in. The prizes offered to the winners are quite often the last consideration in picking a race; more often, location, timing and weather are far more influential aspects of whether to give it a go.
Ed’s families, racing and otherwise, play a large role in not only the success he enjoys while racing, but which races he chooses to participate in. Recently, he chose to compete in a race at the border of Nevada and California, in a town called Primm. He chose this race because he could do his racing thing with his friends and racing family, while his immediate family (sister, mom and niece) got to enjoy the perks of being less than an hour from Las Vegas. This scenario is ideal to Stewart, the kind that helps him not only achieve his racing goals, but also spend quality time with his family.
In 1995, a neighbor, Jim Boggs, asked Ed if he would like to come down to Mexico and help out with the pit crew for the Baja 500. Stewart and some other local celebrities, like Rick Anderson of Casa Tropicana, obliged, and off they went to play in the dirt with some very large vehicles. This was the beginning of Stewart’s love affair with off-road racing and, more specifically, dune buggies.
Ed started racing in 1997 and, at five to ten thousand dollars a race; it can hardly be considered a capitalist venture. To Stewart, the thrill is two-fold; the rush of racing through barren lands at top speeds, trying a new route, or figuring out how to traverse a certain section of mountain to shave minutes off his time. He also enjoys the camaraderie that accompanies the expedition in the form of the diligent help he receives from his pit crew, as well as the experience he gains from each race, when he torques his vehicle or his route to finish a few minutes faster or a few places higher.
Stewart’s pit crew is rarely ever the same. Mostly comprised of friends and helpers from other pit crews, the pits are where the vehicle and driver are pampered for a precious few moments. There is enough time to gas the tank, check the engine and change the tires, if necessary. During this time, Ed drinks some water, may shove a sandwich down if time allows, and occasionally uses the facilities to ensure that he won’t encounter any interruptions on the next leg of the race.
What makes the relationship between Ed Stewart and dune buggies is what separates him from most other racers. He often would rather be in a pit crew helping out, or in the shop building and developing a new vehicle to race. In Ed’s own words, the racing is “the icing on the cake”.
That’s like Barry Bonds saying he likes batting practice more than playing in baseball games, or Allen Iverson declaring that practice is more important than the games themselves. These thoughts, unheard of in these days of self-seeking motives and over-inflated egos rampant in professional sports, are a breath of fresh air.
As in any environment where a person or team ponies up entrance fees and deals with other monetary issues to continue the effort, support is needed. Sponsors play a large role in keeping Team Stewart alive. Jerry Lehman approached Ed about putting the San Clemente Hospital and Medical Center and the San Clemente Journal’s name on his buggy as sponsors. Goodyear Tires, Sellers Food Group and Jimco, a chassis builder from Santee, CA, round out the list of solid contributors to Team Stewart.
As easygoing as a man can be, Ed Stewart is approachable and accessible as well. He does not manipulate his newfound interest to generate publicity and is as welcoming as a friendly handshake. Affable and genuine, Stewart sets an outstanding example of what people can do to achieve not only career success, but live out their dreams and have fun while doing it.