I love old school drivers. Not necessarily old in age, but old in style. Characterized by their need for a steering wheel, and not much concern for what it was attached to, in order to win a race. NASCAR star Kurt Busch will take a page from that throwback manner and spend his Cup schedule off weekend going drag racing.
The move is reminiscent of days gone by where top talents seemed to race anything, anytime, and anywhere. A.J. Foyt has as many wins on dirt as he does asphalt. Mario Andretti possesses victories from renowned auto races on both sides of the Atlantic. Tony Stewart won USAC and Indycar championships before moving to NASCAR. John Andretti’s trophy case contains hardware from stock cars, Indycars, sportscars, drag racing, and midgets. Ken Schrader seems to have seen every oval track in the country. New Jersey short track ace Billy Pauch once won with a winged sprint car, a non-winged sprint car, big-block and small block modifieds on dirt, and an asphalt modified all in the same season. I have always held a special admiration for these types of drivers.
The Las Vegas native will make his way following his hometown superspeedway event to the Gainesville Raceway in Florida for the NHRA Gatornationals where he is entered in the Pro Stock class.
Busch’s customary 500-mile race will be traded in for a mere 1,000 feet contest. His top speed will be just as compelling when his car will reach over 200 mph in less than seven seconds.
Two days of time trials are used to set the field for Sunday’s Final Elimination Bracket. The fastest 16 compete with the quickest qualifier facing off against the sixteenth, the second against the fifteenth, and so forth.
There is no guaranteed spot for Busch like the Cup Series. There is no guaranteed spot for anyone, even the NHRA regulars. A policy that is applauded by anybody understanding the fundamentals of motorsports.
Busch attended the Roy Hill Drag Racing School to learn his new craft as quickly as possible. Hill was a recent guest on my Monday night racing talk show “Motorweek Live.” According to Hill, a former old school racer himself, Busch began learning with a Super Comp car at the one-eighth of a mile distance. The speed at which Busch learned to accomplish all that is required in a run, has helped the driver’s reaction time overall. A quality that has carried over to the ovals.
Hill has been coaching new drag racers for many years and puts Busch in the “top five” drivers he has ever taught. A sense of pride and a little emotion came through in Hill’s voice when he fondly recalled Busch talking about his influential mentors. His Father, former car owner Jack Roush, current car owner Roger Penske, and Hill were mentioned.
Busch’s Pro Stock ride won’t be hard to spot. The Dodge will bear a similar orange and yellow color scheme as his weekly NASCAR seat. What is becoming harder to witness is a driver who sees a challenge just in driving faster than his competitors, and not in staying faithful to a sanctioning body. Old school drivers would be cracking a smile as they watch Busch cross over a medium like they regularly used to.
I tip my hat to Busch and maybe this doesn’t remain a one-shot novelty. Deep down I hope this inspires other racers to keep testing their own skills, and at the same time keep amazing us by unlocking their hidden talents.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Mondays at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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