Finally, as promised, here are some of my thoughts about the time I spent with Kurt Busch during the last three races of 2007. Just so we are clear, I didn’t start out a big fan of Kurt’s. Not that I didn’t like him, I just never paid much attention one way or another, but Kurt and his crew won me over quickly. Not only were they awesome hosts, but I finally really watched him race and he can wheel a racecar with the best of them.
Kurt made an effort to spend one on one time with me every race weekend and included me in as many other appearances as he could. As many of you know, I did get to "officially" interview Kurt for the video FOXSports shot at the Phoenix race as well as ask him “on the record” questions in the media center. I also had the opportunity to interview him after hours at the Penske Racing Museum event announcing Sam Hornish, Jr. I was able to be out on the track when he arrived at the Miller Lite Dodge after driver introductions each weekend and lined up with his crew during the National Anthem. I got a bird’s eye view from atop his pit box during the Texas race and watched the other races from his pit area. I toured his hauler, talked with his mother, and shadowed his crew. I truly had all-access!
The first time I met Kurt was before Qualifying at Texas. I was led into the hauler all the way to the front room where Kurt was hanging out watching the Atlanta race. I was told I had about 5 minutes with him and wasn’t sure to what to expect given he had just drawn the first qualifying position and I knew he wasn’t thrilled with that.
I was pretty nervous meeting a NASCAR Champion and felt uncomfortable starting off a 3 week “relationship” by sticking my new digital recorder in between us and taking notes. I fell back on my skills as a psychologist and went into “interview” mode to calm myself down. I knew Kurt had attended the University of Arizona, my alma mater as well, so I started there. Kurt was there a few years after I was but we knew several of the same haunts. From there, we talked about playing Corn hole (http://www.playcornhole.org/ ), which I read about in his blog (being from Ohio, I come from a long line of Corn hole players). Kurt laughed when I challenged him to a game and we tried to figure out how to get a Corn hole set to the Miami track where there was plenty of room to play. We never did get in a game…but by then our conversation was rolling.
I never did turn on my digital recorder nor did I ever take notes when met with Kurt alone. One of the first things that struck me was how guarded all of the drivers were around the media, and Kurt was no different. Once he learned about the contest AND he saw he wasn’t “on record” with me, those 5 minutes turned quickly into 20 minutes. He spoke freely and was open about racing and his personal life. Every single time I figured I would only have a few minutes with him and every time I got a lot more time than I had ever hoped. As a result, I don’t have a perfect record of our time together, but I had a meaningful exchange with him.
Here are a few things that I observed and found interesting as well as a “hot tip” right off the presses…
- Kurt is just as disappointed with the race (TV) coverage just as we are. Primarily because they don’t show any of the racing further back in the field and he knew what he was doing at the time (passing a lot of cars on the way to the front). He said he didn’t notice much about the pre-race or actual coverage because they always watch with the sound off. Hmmm, sound familiar?
- Kurt was very careful with his choice of words when asked about the COT, the rules or NASCAR’s decisions, suggesting to me that NASCAR keeps their drivers on a tight rein. It will be interesting to see if NASCAR’s newfound idea to let them show “personality” will also apply to their opinions about NASCAR itself. For the record, I don’t think Kurt was a big fan of the COT at the time…but that’s just my gut talking.
- Image really does count for a lot. It seems Kurt has to work twice as hard and be twice as careful as some of the other drivers because of things that have happened in the past. He has definitely had some negative press in the past, but when you think about it, who hasn’t. Consider this...after Texas there was a big “to-do” about how he spoke to his spotter during the race, which resulted in him and his spotter doing interviews on camera the following week explaining how they are great friends from childhood, which allows them to speak that way to each other and forget it. Now, doesn’t Dale Jr “get into it” with his crew chief all the time? Yet, when he does it, it is seen as funny, “family”, and part of his charm. Kurt was frowned upon for doing the same thing I know there are a few other drivers who get the negative spin in a neutral situation. I can’t imagine how frustrating that is.
- Kurt is funny! Check him out on MadTV…he has some great one-liners. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MC_EobBJik He is really making an effort to meet and be available to his fans. He is looking to do more fan friendly media, even maybe “Cribs” to show off his new home in North Carolina and give us a peek into his personal side. Many of you know he is one of the only Cup drivers to sign autographs nearly every Sunday before the race at his merchandise hauler. It really is very impressive given his crazy media/PR schedule each weekend. Give him a chance and you might be surprised at who he really is.
- Kurt’s team is on the rise. With Pat Tryson’s solid leadership, Kurt’s considerable driving talents, a young, capable crew, and Mr. Penske’s unwavering confidence in Kurt and his ample resources, they will be the class of the Dodges and fighting for the Championship. Being able to watch them so closely AND compare them to others in the garages, it was obvious this team has chemistry. You heard it here first…
- And hot off the presses! If you’d like to make a little money off Kurt…The Palms in Las Vegas just announced today it will have a special “Battle of the Beers” betting line between Miller Lite and Budweiser. You can bet the results of the entire season, (the current line is that Kurt will finish 8.5 positions ahead of Kasey), or you can bet whether Miller or Bud will finish best each race. For all the details, go here: http://www.millerliteracing.com/
I am happy to expand on any of my experiences with Kurt or answer any questions you have about him or his team. For folks who haven’t been around in the off season, continue reading my blog for more on my experiences in the garages. Thanks for reading!