Author: McKenna, Kevin
Date published: April 2, 2010
Wally Parks would have loved Kurt Busch. The late NHRA founder probably would have admired Busch's extensive stock car racing résumé, which includes 21 event wins, 11 poles, and the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, but what Wally really would have appreciated was Busch's decision to build a drag car that he designed and built, with the help of a few close friends, and bring it to the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals to run in the Super Gas class.
More than anything else, Parks was a true hot rodder, and one of his greatest joys in life was being able to share his passion for highperformance vehicles with like-minded individuals. After Busch's stint in Gainesville, where he waited patiently until Sunday just to get one shot at the track with a car that he admitted was illsuited for the precise nature of the Super Gas class, I tend to think that Busch more than earned his stripes.
As one of the biggest stars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Busch is highly compensated for his services, and the demands on his time are many. He has more than $55 million in career earnings, and like most of his fellow drivers, he flies to and from each race in a private jet. His likeness is prominently featured in a variety of promotions for his primary sponsor, Miller Lite, and he is enough of a celebrity that I'm guessing he rarely has time to enjoy a meal or a walk through the local department store without being approached by fans and autograph seekers.
So why would Busch, whose hectic race schedule features just four open weekends between February and November, want to spend one of them at a dragstrip?
"I'm here simply because I want to be here," he said. "It's very enjoyable to have this time away from the NASCAR circuit and the highpressure zone that we're always in. This is big pressure, too, with these guys here in NHRA, but I just like the [pit area] and how it's set up: It's open, and fans can walk around and enjoy things from the inside out. With NASCAR, it's hard to get into the garage area, and you have that fullthrottle attitude. It's just fun to be part of this program this weekend."
Just three days after winning the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Busch was lying on his back in the grass in a remote area of the Gainesville Raceway pit area, putting the finishing touches on his turbocharged Hemipowered Dodge Challenger. When he decided to go drag racing, Busch did not ask, nor did he expect to receive preferential treatment. When rains doused Gainesville Raceway Thursday and Friday, Busch's pit area turned into a muddy quagmire. If it upset him, he never let on.
"Mother Nature hasn't quite cooperated just yet for us, but hopefully, we'll get a pass, whether it's later today or tomorrow," Busch said when interviewed by the Gainesville media on Saturday afternoon. "Running in the Super Gas division, it's really neat. The camaraderie with the guys helping out in the pit area and just being one of the group, it's just fun hanging out and spending time with my guys. It's been fun so far. I'm just really having fun and trying to learn something different and try to challenge myself in another area of motorsports; that's what the biggest project is with this car.
"Wednesday, we went through tech inspection, and that was a big moment for me, going through tech and getting that little decal that says
'Participant of the Gatornationals.' I kind of felt like an 8-year-old schoolboy when they gave me that decal."
Busch was the first one to admit that the combination he choose for his car - a turbocharged late-model Hemi with a 10.5-inch tire and no delay box or throttle stop - was far from ideal for Super Gas racing, but that also didn't seem to bother him because he simply did the best with the equipment he had on hand. Busch went on to explain that the car wasn't built to run in Super Gas but rather as a multipurpose vehicle that could run in a variety of different classes, including the popular 10.5-tire races. The car is also street legal.
"It's been fun putting this car together," he said. "Me and my buddy Jesse [Walker] started talking one day, 'We should put fuel injection on this thing, that way I could just fire it up and drive it anytime instead of having a carburetor on it. Well, if we're doing that, we might as well put a turbo on it. Well, if we're putting a turbo on it, we might as well put a Powerglide transmission on it.' We just kept bouncing ideas off each other, and next thing you know, we were going to have an eight-second car pretty easy, so let's de-tune it and run Super Gas. It's just been one thing after the next. I've been having some great support from Dodge and Mopar, and Tag Heuer jumped aboard. It's been fun bolting it all together, being the owner, being the driver, and just being one of the crewmembers hanging out, having fun."
Busch ultimately got to make a pair of runs on Sunday. He posted a respectable 9.94 elapsed time on his only time-trial run (with Pro Stock ace Dave Connolly in the other lane) and then lost a 10.00 to 10.10 race against Wes Neely in the opening round, although Busch probably gained a bit of satisfaction by getting off the starting line first by three-hundredths.
"I'm still learning what the drag racing world is about," he said. "I still hope I've got 10, 15 years left on the Cup circuit but enjoying my time on an off week. The fun meter has been pegged. Who knows? The opportunity may be
Well done, Kurt. You're welcome back any time.