NASCAR driver Kurt Busch will make his NHRA professional debut in this weekend's Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville, driving a Shell-backed Dodge Avenger for Allen Johnson and J&J Racing.
Q: It's going to be very interesting for you this weekend. Tell us about your desire to race here in Pro Stock.
Well, last year, with the weather the way it was and I know that it's going to be clear and sunny for the rest of the weekend, being in the garage, we sat there watching rain for four days. I'm like, really, this is my off weekend from Cup. I only have three or four a month, we are so busy on the Cup circuit but I'm a car guy and I wanted to be here racing and I only got to make two passes last year.
It's just one of those feelings where it gave me that taste, I wanted to go out there and race but I couldn't and I said, well, heck, next time around, I'm going to go into the pro division. So we ramped it up. We have Shell on board to come over from our NASCAR world, like what John was talking about, cross promotion.
If you can bring in the star power of what the NASCAR group does to the NHRA side and create this excitement in the Pro Stock division, it's a lot of fun. I hope we make two passes on Friday and Saturday and that gives us an opportunity to be there on Sunday and be there for eliminations.
It's a whole new world, I'm really excited about it, it's a lot of fun and a whole different challenge, but yet at the end of the day it's just a racecar and a racetrack and I'm here to put my best effort with this great group of guys. I have nobody I could afford to pay; all of them are volunteers. I told them I would give them a steak dinner and hotel room and they said, all right, we are in. But a good group of guys to come down and have some fun and to be competitive and take this seriously.
When you first started doing this, you went into the shop in North Carolina and didn't quite get the welcome you were expecting, did you?
KURT BUSCH: It was the opportunity to go out there and just have fun on an open drag night, and Greg Anderson came by and said, "My buddy is racing this bike and can I take your Viper out?" and I said "OK, here are the keys." He takes the car out there just thinking that it's a factory vehicle, and he's going to go out there just going to lay down a run and he sidesteps the clutch all the way down and smokes it. And you can tell the car was not going anywhere and the clutch is going 1,000 miles an hour.
Brings the car back and it won't even drive itself into the trailer. Great. "Well," he says, "this isn't your car, this is a Dodge car." I said, "No, this is my personal car and you just pulled the clutch right out of this thing." He said, "Well, don't worry about it. I'll fix you up."
I said: "No, I've got guys who have got parts. I'll fix it myself. I'm going to go to drag racing school and I'm going to prepare myself to go to Pro Stock because you're going to give me the keys to your car one day and I'm going to go pull the clutch out of your Pro Stock car."
If this all works out as things do in life, it will be amazing if we make the field, and I'm sure we'll be in the bottom half of the field if we make it. Greg Anderson will be in the top half. Who knows? He might match up against us in the first round and this will be an expensive clutch for him to buy if we beat him.
Ten years ago, you were a rookie in the Cup Series, now you're coming here as a rookie. Tell us about the difference between your first NASCAR race and now your first race with NHRA.
KURT BUSCH: That's what it feels like. It feels like being a rookie all over again. It's amazing to see what the sport has done over the years and how the cars were the attention back in the day; on what Big Daddy [Don Garlits] was building and what those legends of the sport were putting out on the racetrack.
And seeing it now, seeing it come full circle, it's the names that are here that are the attention makers, and so that's what makes this fun for me is to come out. Yeah, I'm Kurt, I drive on the NASCAR side. But I'm just the new guy. I don't want the extra attention.
But I know what I can do for the sport bringing the attention over, having those USA Today-style type articles and creating the excitement for the Gatornationals and just being the regular guy and just trying to go out there and have some fun, I understand that there's a lot of responsibility that comes with it and I'm going to enjoy the weekend for what it's worth and go out and compete with the best of the best as far as what's going on out here; but also to live up to what these legends have done for our sport, this sport, because it's amazing.
Nobody does it alone. It's all a big group effort and this is like family and I feel like how the group here has accepted me as part of their family, and now we have to go out there and have some fun.
What are your expectations for yourself this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: We just want to make the show. To go out there and qualify for the top 16. But I hear there are, what, 30 cars registered? That's ridiculous. I thought there would be like 18.
It's just like on the NASCAR side – it's just about being a driver and I think that's why we are all here, because we are car people and we generally love to be a competitor. In all that we do, whether our car looks cooler than yours or our car is faster than yours. That's why we are all here, because we are car people.