If I had to list the drivers people have asked me about over the years, Kurt Busch wouldn’t be in the top 10.
But over the course of the past several weeks, he has been number one.
I’ve internally debated what my response should be. Do I defend NASCAR’s decision to suspend Busch from racing for a couple of weeks while waiting for a court’s decision on whether or not to bring criminal charges against him? (He was reinstated in time for the March 22 race at Auto Club Speedway, where he started on the pole.)
Do I loudly decry violence against women -- or against anyone, for that matter -- for the whole wide world to hear? Do I decline to say anything at all? Most importantly, does it even matter what I think?
Call it self-congratulatory, but I haven’t heard many women sticking up for Kurt, so I kind of think it might.
I have only once had one meaningful encounter with Kurt Busch. Here’s what happened.
I was the director of public relations at Darlington Raceway on March 18, 2003 -- that was back in the glory days when Darlington had two annual Sprint Cup Series weekends; just thought I’d throw that one out there, NASCAR -- when fans who came for a race left as witnesses to history.
It was the day Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch (who was battling the car as well as the track since his power steering had gone out several laps earlier), to the checkered flag by .002 seconds. It was the closest finish in NASCAR history, and one heck of a show.
We brought Kurt and Ricky back to the track for a media event, and as part of the old-school promotional silliness Darlington was famous for back in the day, asked them to put on boxing gloves and pose for a photo op on the start/finish line. They declined the invitation to wear the satin trunks, citing skin allergies or something like that. Go figure.
Think about it; it’s great to be part of the closest-ever finish if you end up in Victory Lane at the end of the day, but for the second-place guy, well … you kind of become the sport’s most famous loser. Yet Kurt Busch, without complaint, drove himself from the Charlotte area to Darlington on a Tuesday morning and posed for a slightly embarrassing photo to promote a race at a track where he had never scored a win.
In all my years at Darlington, I can honestly say I never worked with anyone more gracious and accommodating.
In a court of law, one person can hang a jury. In the court of public opinion, this may be more akin to a lone voice crying in the wilderness, saying something that few agree with.
We have seen Kurt Busch lose his temper and let his mouth get the better of him. That’s happened to me; it’s probably happened to you, too. We have seen him blame his co-workers, a/k/a his team members, for a poor job performance. I’ve done that; you probably have, too. We have seen him lose jobs as a result of his questionable behavior; that’s probably happened to some of us, too.
And we have definitely experienced the thrill of seeing him race. Week after week, he reminds us that as far as pure driving ability goes, he is as good as anyone in NASCAR, and better than most. Like him or not, you can’t deny his talent. I love to watch Kurt Busch drive that stock car, and hope I’ll be able to continue doing so for a very long time.
The details of Busch’s domestic problems have been prominently featured by most national news outlets for a number of weeks now -- where is all this coverage when the really positive stuff happens in NASCAR, by the way? -- so I don’t feel the need to reiterate them here.
I do, however, feel the need to stick up for the guy. If we’re going to judge somebody and endanger the décor of our glass houses in the process, then whenever possible we should try to base our opinions on what we know of the person in question through our own experience.
For me, it’s time to put these recent events in the rearview, stop talking about it already, and get on with the so-far exciting 2015 racing season. The court system couldn’t find a reason to charge Kurt Busch with anything; who are we to judge?
(Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column, My Brain on NASCAR, is made available to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C., by the S.C. News Exchange.)