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Tony Stewart's race to help kids

By Rebecca Angel Baer, CNN
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Tony Stewart's race for charity
  • Stewart invites 25 of the best drivers in motorsports to compete for charity
  • Proceeds go to four children's hospitals across the country
  • Prelude to the Dream has raised $3 million in the past six years

(CNN) -- NASCAR driver Carl Edwards is currently at the top of the Sprint Cup leader board, but another driver is leading the pack in charitable endeavors -- two time champion Tony Stewart.

Stewart was once named "Most Caring Athlete" by USA Weekend, and he is living up to the title. For the past seven years, he's made good use of his day job as a fundraising vehicle.

Every summer Stewart calls on some of his friends -- who happen to be the best of the best in motorsports -- to race on the dirt and under the lights for the Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway.

NASCAR has roots in this track and in dirt racing. While the history in the dirt is exciting, the drivers know there is much more to gain here.

"The question why am I racing this race as opposed to other dirt races is because of the charities involved and to support Tony Stewart and his foundation," says NASCAR driver Brian Vickers.

Fellow driver Kyle Busch says it's a date that's always penciled into his schedule. "It's neat to have the opportunity, and [he is] thankful we can come out here for a good cause," he said.

Stewart and his pals divide into four teams and race for the win in honor of four children's hospitals. This year, the superstars of NASCAR, NHRA, USAC and IndyCar raced to raise money for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Levine Children's Hospital of Charlotte, Medical Center Dallas and St. Louis Children's Hospital.

While each hospital will receive a portion of the proceeds, the team with the highest points wins the highest percentage. Money is raised through ticket sales and pay-per-view purchases. The event has earned a total of $3 million in its first six years.

"You know it's kind of a dual purpose for us. It's something the drivers look forward to every year, but it's more than just us having fun... We wanna have a good time, but knowing there's a bigger purpose. And there are all of these children's charities that we're able to help. That's really what makes it worth while in the end," Stewart says.

Five time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson says he's proud of Stewart's charitable efforts and that racing for these hospitals really hits home for him.

"This can really reach out and touch so many people through the hospitals. It's brilliant. It really works well, and it has made an impact on a hospital very close to my home, the Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte. So it's great to see this working its way back to the area where I'm from and helping so many kids," Johnson said.

Ryan Newman races for Stewart's NASCAR team, Stewart-Haas Racing, and is an eager participant. "I'm not a golfer, but I do love to come race a race car for charity. I'm proud to be a part of it and honored to be a guest here as a racer."

These drivers, who are usually rivals on the track, come together to raise money for these children. They also agree that Stewart sets a grand example in generosity.

Carl Edwards says Stewart is a role model he looks up to and that he's shown him how to give. "Hopefully people watching will realize that there are places in your community... that you can give to. And we're doing a big thing here, but any little bit anywhere helps," Edwards said.

When asked if he accepts the title of role model in his charitable efforts, Stewart humbly answered that he hopes he's been one.

He credits his parents for never letting him forget the people who've helped him along the way and says he feels good about being able to give back. But he's quick to share the credit for Prelude's success.

"I can't take all the credit. There are 25 guys that come here, that help make this event so successful. And they're donating their time. We try to pay for the fuel for their planes, they never let us do that. They want the proceeds to go to these kids.

"So it shouldn't be just about me being the guy that makes this work. It's always the staff.. the whole group that makes it all work. Everybody should have a piece of the credit," he said.

Clint Bowyer won this year's race with Team St. Louis finishing first in the team competition. But Stewart's efforts continue year-round through his foundation.

He started the Tony Stewart Foundation in 2004 to focus on the health of children, the welfare of animals and the future of injured drivers.