This is a tale about winning. Not about showing up, being there, running well or finishing in the top five. Winning. And how hard it is.
I have watched auto racing from the grandstands since 1976. Winning races looked easy. I wanted to be a race car driver as a little boy. I wanted to be a big winner. Sure I knew I wouldnt win all of them but I sure felt like I could win a bunch.
I emulated entire races with a collection of Matchbox and Hotwheel cars. I pretended to be the hotshoe who started in the back every race but would charge to the front. I won quite often in my toy car races. Rarely lost actually. I knew when I grew up my fantasies would turn into reality.
During my early teenage years I continued to view from the stands and collect trade papers containing stories of local and national races. Headlines glorifying top drivers winning repeated them selves week after week and issue after issue. I couldnt wait to grow up and have my name blazoned across the newspaper banner after another victory.
As I finally got old enough to enter a pit area legally I went to work. Friends with racecars got my free labor in exchange for their knowledge. In the back of my head I still wanted to drive but I was gaining valuable mechanical experience. My racing career was underway.
My first stint as a crewmember lasted one season and we never won a feature but we ran competitive and had some fast cars many times. You cant always win, but I knew we could at the right time. I bought my first street stock and went off on my own to race. I knew I could win.
My first race start ever brought a catastrophic dose of motorsports reality. Driving a dirt track only a screen is used in place of a windshield. I started my first full speed laps during warm-ups and the air rushed through the cockpit, around my neck and shoulders, the mud splattered on my visor. I started going through tearoffs every lap. I thought I was flying.
Suddenly two cars paralleled me, made us three wide for an instant and they both disappeared around the next corner. Winning, which I was so sure I could do, now seemed realistically light years away. Later that evening I even suffered a blown engine, which ate up a lot of my total budget for the following year.
I then went through the suffering that thousands of weekly short track racers go through every season: just getting to the track. A myriad of budget and mechanical problems kept building mountains for me to climb over. Each challenge seemed a little steeper than the weekend before.
Money and stress ran out after about a year and a half. A handful of top ten finishes was all I had to show for my work. Winning? I was optimistic every Saturday morning as we loaded. In real life winning was something I could visualize but was far, far, from producing.
I returned to crewmember status and had some good success in a friends dirt car in weekly support divisions. We did visit victory lane on several occasions. A few seasons later we moved up to the tracks lead class.
At the highest level, we accepted that we needed to work harder to finish tenth in a big block dirt modified than we needed to win in the small block sportsman class. The money and effort to win was tremendous. On a consistent basis, winning was a huge effort for the top division at a weekly dirt track.
How do the professionals step up to the level they do? What was that competitive level? I found out when I moved to Charlotte and competed with the NASCAR teams.
Hundreds of employees busting their rear ends for all kinds of hours on end and millions of dollars dedicated to finding speed still can result in a thirtieth place finish. Win? It is so hard many people do quit and return home. Some weeks, even on a Cup level, it is a struggle to even get the cars loaded on time to tow to the speedway. Never mind winning.
I experienced how difficult it was to simply load up and be at the racetrack to compete with my street stock. The difficulty of winning a race was at an exponentially greater level.
Winning at the Sportsman level was even greater.
Winning at the Modified level was greater than that.
Winning at the Truck level was greater than that.
Winning at the Nationwide level was greater than that.
Winning on the Cup level was greater than that,
Which will bring me to this past weeks upper echelon accomplishment. Kyle Busch was victorious in NASCARs top three series in the same weekend. To any racer with a sense of what it takes to win on any motorsports level, what Busch accomplished is off the charts.
Critique and debate his style and personality all you want. There is no debate on the mans driving talent and desire to win. His hammer-down, go-to-the-front-and-leave-it-there approach to races is a throwback to names of yesterday. Men that raced to lead every lap of every race. Drivers that were once young and wanted to prove something to the world.
When Busch is determined to win, I see a little Darrell Waltrip, a sprinkle of Neil Bonnett, a slice of Dale Earnhardt, and a pinch of Tim Richmond.
Out of a field of 30 to 40 cars a second-place finish to these men might as well have been 25th. Running well and leading laps was only the start of a good day. After the green flag fell they had to be the very first one to cross under the checkered flag. Racing was about winning. Buschs only reason to even start a race is to win the race.
This is a story about winning. Someday when Kyle Buschs story is written there will be no good point day chapters. The only tales that will mean anything to him are crossing the finish line with everyone else in his rearview mirror. To winning racecar drivers that is all that does matter.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursday at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
Patrick, I like you, respect you, and love your Thursday night show on Racers Reunion Radio. I agree that winning is what racing is all about. Bonnett did it with class. Dale Earnhardt did it with class. Tim Richmond did it with class. I haven't seen that in KB yet. He wins, sure. He's a good driver, sure. He takes chances and, thankfully, so far, he has prevailed. But, many times, such as one of those restarts close to the end of the Cup race in Bristol, if other drivers didn't back out and give him room, there would have been Doublemint all over the wall. Does that make KB better, or just more daring? Does that make the other driver less of a driver, a chicken, or a wiser man? I am not on a crusade to degrade KB. He is a talent. He is also a smart aleck when it's not called for. He is getting better with his "cry baby attitude" when he has problems, I'll give you that. It does appear, from what I observe, the three biggest "cry babies" in Cup today drive for Joe Gibbs Racing and I LIKE Joe Gibbes.Oh well, I'll be listening to Racers Reunion Radio on the Zeus Radio Network at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night so take me to task then.Respectully submitted (as to Patrick Reynolds, not so much to KB) byTim Leeming