ROOTS OF SUCCESS

Our automotive hobby is about cars. It is not, however, only about cars and parts. It is also about people, and driving cars and enjoying them with people. Yes, you can get great enjoyment from looking at your double cool car in your garage, but until you get out with it and enjoy time with other car guys, you haven’t really enjoyed the automotive hobby to its full extent. When you can look back months or years from now and can share some stories about things you have done together with friends, then you are really living the dream.  This month I will share some personal experiences about friends in my automotive hobby past. There are plenty of opportunities to share technical stuff in future columns, so I thought that I might just open up the past for some cool memories.

There is a friend of mine whose name is Tom. I ran into him after completing high school, when I was around 21 years old. I was working on my second street rod, a (Ford coupe) with a Small-Block Chevy engine, basically the standard street rod package. He had a '37 (Ford) 5-window coupe which also had a Chevy Small-Block under the hood. We had the same friends in high school from auto class, which I never actually took. We struck up a renewed friendship and spent countless hours building street rods. We went to a few rod runs together, including the Street Rod Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1976. I drove my coupe, and he towed his '33 sedan (it was not yet finished, but drivable, so the plan was to drive it from the hotel onto the fairgrounds every day and then tow it back home). We also brought along in his pick-up truck everything we needed to actually chop the top on my coupe right there at the fairgrounds during the nationals. We were absolutely sure that we would get in the magazines doing that there. There was only one problem that we forgot about, which we realized when we got to the event. We did not figure out how to put a windshield in it so I could drive home! 700 miles without a windshield is kind of brutal, even for a young, spunky street rodder. So we had to abort the plan. So much for becoming famous.

We went on building hot rods, but then later that year he decided that he and his wife were moving to Las Vegas. We kept in touch, and I went to visit when I could. They had their first child, Kurt, and since he was a mechanic, Tom did a great job teaching him and raising him in an automotive atmosphere at home. After about 6 years, they had a second son, Kyle. I kept in touch with all of them and watched them grow up. Tom drifted away from street rodding and into local short track racing. Being the superior mechanic he was, he won on a regular basis. When Kurt was old enough, with a little fudging, he started racing with Tom. Of course, at that point the entire household was centered around racing. Kurt would talk to Tom about the previous week’s race, and Kyle would be on the computer racing game asking Tom if he should put more wedge in the car or less tire pressure on the left front. And Kyle was only around 12 years old

I would go out and stay at their house while attending the SEMA Show, and just sit back and watch all of them in excitement. I remember a time right around that period when I was in town for SEMA and we went out to dinner. Kurt and Kyle sat on one side of the table and Tom and Gaye sat on the other side, and I sat on the end. Before you knew it, Kyle was slurping his straw in his drink, giving Kurt one of those “I dare you to” looks. Soon Kurt gave Kyle a shot with his elbow. Then in self defense Kyle gave one back. Not to be out done, Kurt gives him another shot and the pop goes flying. Then all heck breaks out as Tom starts “deciding for them” that they better stop all the fooling around unless they want to eat their pizza in the car, and that they’d better clean up the mess pronto.

Amidst all the fun -- and tough times -- of raising two boys, Tom was a proud papa when both began racing at the local track. There were even times when the boys finished one and two. Right about then, Kurt got an offer to test for Roush Racing, and the rest of the story for him is in the NASCAR history books. But right behind him Kyle was learning and driving at local and regional races. Some who watched them both said that Kyle was ahead of where Kurt was at the same age. Kyle was too young to race, even in the NASCAR Truck series, as they changed the minimum age to 21, and Kyle was at the time still only 19. Even though Roush had been grooming him for the Truck series, NASCAR was not interested.

The following year Kyle temporarily moved to Ohio with Tom, to drive a Chevy ASA car. That was a great but challenging year, as he got some interesting seat time around the Midwest race circuit. He was also invited to drive in the “Snowball Derby” race in Florida, which is a very prestigious event. The likes of Dale Earnhardt Sr., and other famous drivers also cut their teeth in that race. After the season ended Kyle was weighing offers for a NASCAR ride. He eventually landed at Hendricks Motorsports in the Nextel Cup series, driving a Chevy as a professional NASCAR driver at the age of 21. He also became the youngest driver to win a Nextel Cup race. The best part about all of this is that he drives a Chevy, which is why I shared all this with you.

You have probably figured out by now that I am referring to Kurt and Kyle Busch. As a little side note, when President Bush was the Grand Marshal for the Daytona race and Kurt was one of the drivers that was in the group that got to speak to the President, it is rumored that Kurt said something to the effect of “Glad to meet you, but you spell your name wrong”. I was never able to confirm that with Tom, but it sure is fun folk lore.
 
Most of us have stories that are a big part of our automotive life. I am glad that I was able to share some Chevy stories. I will always remember that dinner, as I still think of those two guys as just bigger kids now. Kurt has driven both a Ford and a Dodge. Eventually, I’m betting that he’ll figure it out and drive a Chevy for someone. Until next time just go fast and turn left. 

 

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