KURT BUSCH … NASCAR NEXTEL CUP CHAMPION, 2004 … IROC CHAMPION, 2003 … DWARF AND HOBBY LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIPS, 1995 96 To achieve anything in this game, you must be prepared to dabble on the boundary of disaster. SIR STIRLING MOSS, legendary British Grand Prix winner 202 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME They told me Little League baseball was supposed to be fun, but if I didn’t win I was pretty upset. I guess you can say I’ve always had the competitive drive. I felt like I poured everything I had at that age into that game. When my team won, although I was satisfied, I was still looking to see what I could do better.

To their credit, my family saw this will to win, this fire in me, and so my dad started to help me. When he couldn’t, my uncle would come over and work with me on my mechanics. I had to be in the thick of things, so I usually hit leadoff or second and played catcher or shortstop. HOW BASEBALL MADE ME A BETTER DRIVER I remember a particular big game that we had to win. It was tied in the last inning and our pitcher was beginning to struggle. He was getting wild, which wasn’t good, because the other team had a runner on third. I was catching. Sure enough, after saving two balls in the dirt, the third squirted by me. As I went after it I said to myself, There is no way I’m losing the game here. So I don’t know how I did it, but facing the other way, I reached back, grabbed the ball, and with virtually no time to turn around, I hiked it like a football through my legs to the pitcher, who made the tag at the plate. We wound up winning in extra innings. That play taught me not only to never give up, but also that to win you sometimes have to be creative.

A DAD’S SACRIFICE We were and are a racing family. My dad raced all through my childhood, and when it started to get political and the costs started to rise, he sold his late-model car and bought two dwarf cars. As a result, he had to teach himself a brand-new way of racing, which was just another example of how my dad taught me how important sacrifice is. We learned together, the hard way. He had me do anything the crew needed done, like washing the cars and handling the tire pressure. It was great. KURT BUSCH 203 At fifteen, I was finally going to get my chance to race, but first my dad and I built a car together. He wanted me to understand the mechanics of the car, and this was truly the only way. He didn’t want me to go out there and tear it up without understanding what it would take to get ready for the next week’s race.

Being with him, side by side, building that car, was something I would not trade for anything. Even today, I take extra care not to tear up a car because I know how hard it is to get it on the track again. IF AT FIRST . . . I took second in my first race ever and I thought I was ready to roll. My next three races I wrecked the cars, probably because I thought I could do this without any real training. My parents, on the other hand, after this run of wrecks, were thinking that maybe they’d made a mistake. I was thinking, of course, that I’d just had a run of bad luck. THE DIFFERENCE ONE PERSON CAN MAKE I met this old-timer walking the track and he gave me the words that will last me a lifetime. He said, Son, you are putting yourself in a position to wreck your car. I said, What do you mean? He just drove over my hood? How could that be my fault? He said, Slow down, look ahead, and drive the other guy’s car ahead of you so that you’re not the jagged edge looking for a place to go. As a result, I learned to study the field. That’s what racing is about. It took someone I didn’t know approaching me with that advice and about a year’s worth of trial and error to finally get the formula right.

I learned that there are times to use speed and times not to. Racing is more about strategypicking your spots to use your speed. That philosophy launched my pro career. BECOMING A BETTER PERSON AFTER BECOMING A GREAT DRIVER Right now, I’m focused on trying to become a better person in the eyes of the fans. I think I’ve been misunderstood, because all I’ve tried to do is be considered a regular guy. I’ve learned that I have to work hard at being 204 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME better with the fans and, at the same time, work hard to get better as a driver. My hope is that fans will realize that Kurt Busch is a guy we can pull for because he was just like us at one point. HOW I PLAY THE GAME I don’t mind being the guy to beat, the guy who gets to the checkered flag first because he outthinks the rest of the pack. I think about the mental side of racing, the track, the restrictor plates, the field. I’m always trying to think ahead.

That’s what I take a lot of pride in. Over the years, I’ve found out that you can’t hit a home run every time at bat and, to use a football analogy, there are times when you just need four yards more than you need a touchdown. You have to do what the team needs at that moment as opposed to what you think you need. MY WRAP Kurt Busch has gotten respect as a driver. Now he wants the popularity, and he’s focused on making it happen. It seems to me that if the fans learn about his background, they will find a lot to cheer about. And keep in mind, Darrell Waltrip claims to have been booed twice as loud during his heyday, and he’s now one of the most popular men in his sport. KURT BUSCH

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