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Monday musings from the Anne Cave

February 23, 2015

Monday musings from the Anne Cave:

Working the NHRA race at Phoenix this past weekend, I was appalled by the lack of concern and preparation by new track operators at what was once Firebird International Raceway and is now called Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. The VIP suites that stand behind the staging and racing lanes has been condemned because they’re falling apart, forcing the track to relocate its best customers under awnings near the right lane of the dragstrip. Apparently the roof of the building wasn’t properly supported and its weight is drawing down on lower floors.

Another horrid faux pas occurred on Friday, when the track decided to tow a legally parked media member’s truck to the farthest part of the circuit from where he had legally placed the vehicle. The gentleman in question is one of the most gifted photographers I’ve ever met – and one who’s generous with his time and equipment, an anomaly in the trade. Bereft with a heart condition, this gentleman had to walk and walk and walk to “find” his vehicle and opted not to attend the final two days of competition so as to keep his health somewhat intact.
Kurt Busch Indy2
While all of this was going on in the Valley of the Sun, even stranger activities ensued in Daytona Beach, FL, site of the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s season-starting and most prestigious race. Back in the fall, driver Kurt Busch had been asked to stay away from his former girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, due to an alleged assault in the driver’s motorhome after he’d spoken with Ms Driscoll about his feelings of despondency. She came to his side, despite the fact that their relationship had ended a week or two earlier, bringing her young son to help cheer Busch.

On Friday, the findings of a Delaware commissioner were released and NASCAR elected, based on those findings, to exclude Busch from competition indefinitely. Two subsequent appeals took place the following day with NASCAR upholding its ban on the driver who has had numerous previous run-ins with law enforcement, team members and media. For all of those incidents, he’s been fired, fined and placed on probation, none of which do anything to stem his modus operandi.

While the second appeal was ongoing, Busch’s brother Kyle had a horrendous accident in the sub-series Xfinity race, going head-first into a retaining wall that had not, to that point, been protected by a SAFER barrier, the type of softer wall initiated by former IRL chief Tony George and initially placed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway years ago. While NASCAR tries very hard to take credit for the use of SAFER barriers, IMS did it first – and not specifically to benefit the tin-top series.

Kyle Busch sustained injuries to his right leg and left foot in the altercation with the wall (which won that fight, obviously), rendering him unable to perform for an indefinite period. That was a huge blow to Joe Gibbs Racing, to Toyota and to the sport itself, as Busch has matured far more readily than has his older brother and looked ready to make this his best year yet. At least track president Joie Chitwood acknowledged the track hadn’t done its part and intends to paper the place with SAFER barriers. Nice to see Joie doing the right thing.

While I feel for Kyle Busch, I have no such thoughts for Kurt Busch or Patricia Driscoll. The elder Busch brother has acted like an entitled bully since joining NASCAR and his actions speak louder than any excuses he might make. Cited for reckless driving and making it worse with a “don’t you know who I am” statement to the arresting officer in Phoenix in 2005, Kurt Busch was fired from Roush Fenway Racing with two races left in the season following his championship year!
Busch at Indy1
In 2011, while working with Team Penske, he insulted a team official over the radio during a race, had run-ins with two reporters at different time and was fined a miserly $50,000 by NASCAR for his inexplicably poor behavior. He was subsequently fired by Team Penske, opening the way for young guns Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Good move by Roger Penske, Tim Cindric and the brain trust of that team, eh?
1Kurt Busch copy
He also raced in the NHRA’s Gatornationals that year, hoping to advance into that series’ Pro Stock division with Dodge and its premier team Johnson & Johnson Racing, which secured the title with Allen Johnson in 2012. That was a “one and done” for Busch, who obviously got most of the press for his activities at one of drag racing’s biggest events.

By that time Busch had worked his way through two of the best teams in the NASCAR business, burnt himself out and resigned to drive for Phoenix Racing in 2012. Things didn’t get better for Busch, who was suspended for a single race after threatening a race reporter of long standing on pit road. He went to Furniture Row Racing in 2013, taking them to the Chase for the first time. He was hired by Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing for a multi-year contract that was to begin in 2014.

Haas allowed his driver to attempt The Double in May of 2014, racing at both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 the same day – in addition to the Sprint all-star race. Busch was named Rookie of the Year for the Indy 500 after finishing sixth from a 12th-place start for Andretti Autosport (despite the extraordinary race turned in by true rookie Sage Karam) but failed to finish the second race of the day when he had engine problems about 30 laps from the close.

Sage Karam deserved recognition for his 2014 Indy 500 finish of ninth - as a true rookie

Sage Karam deserved recognition for his 2014 Indy 500 finish of ninth – as a true rookie

Busch was relatively quiet throughout the balance of the 2014 season until his altercation with Ms Driscoll became public. A drawn-out group of court appearances followed and the commissioner in the case finally came to the conclusion that Busch had “likely” caused a domestic quarrel that resulted in Driscoll being partially strangled and pushed against a wall. These “facts” haven’t been heard in a civil or criminal case as of yet, but the court of public opinion has pushed Kurt Busch out.

Because of all these non-racing activities, Kyle Busch’s accident notwithstanding, the Daytona 500 wasn’t quite the same – no Busch brother was in the race for the first time since 2001! Joey Logano took the win in the car vacated by the senior Busch brother – karma – and both Busch brothers’ replacements had quiet, non-confrontational races.

In other news, Fernando Alonso had a massive crash in the new McLaren Honda Formula 1 racecar over the weekend that sent him to an ICU installation for a good look. This and Kyle Busch’s accident remind us that yes, racing is a very, very, very dangerous sport and one that should not be taken lightly or in a cavalier manner. One is not “entitled” to race; one earns the ability to work on a racetrack.

And that brings me back to Kurt Busch, who’s always felt that he was entitled to race and everyone else be damned. I’m hoping that no one – not INDYCAR, NASCAR, NHRA or any other major sanctioning body – gives this self-proclaimed “outlaw” another opportunity to perform on a racetrack. He’s proven himself to be out of control both on and off the track and in need of severe psychiatric help.

Words and Photos By Anne Proffit

(Caveat – I had a professional issue with Kurt Busch that colors this story: we were supposed to conduct an interview while he was driving for Team Penske. I firmed it up two weeks, one week and one day prior to the day we were supposed to talk but on that day, he had his PR guy tell me he couldn’t be bothered, nearly scuttling a 6-page story for Race Engine Technology)

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