(EDITOR’S NOTE: 51’s X-Factor is a feature on Speed51.com that features opinions from columnists on racing’s hottest topics. Rob Blount, the author of this editorial, is the Southeast Editor for Speed51.com. The views which are expressed in the following column are his own and not necessarily the views of Speed51.com and/or its partners.)
Let’s not waste any time in getting to the point. Kyle Busch is great for short track racing. Anybody who tells you otherwise is speaking with their emotions, not their brain.
Busch is a polarizing figure, maybe the most polarizing in American motorsports today. Love him or hate him, you talk about him, you read about him, you listen to him and you use your hard-earned money to watch what he’s doing whether it be in person or on television.
Earlier this week, the debate about NASCAR drivers racing in “lower divisions” was reignited when NASCAR issued new participant rules for the 2018 season outlining how many races Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers will be able to run in the lower divisions of the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Some are referring to it as the “Kyle Busch rule” because he races and wins so often in those two divisions.
The discussion eventually turned towards the short track ranks and whether or not Kyle Busch’s participation is a good thing there. Some critics say he shouldn’t head to the short tracks to try to take the money from the local racers. Some say it isn’t fair that he heads to a race having already outspent those that compete in that series or at that track regularly.
Quite frankly, I can’t wrap my head around those complaints. Having someone like Kyle Busch at a short track race has nothing except positive benefits for the sport.
Some may find this odd, but this writer didn’t always have an interest in short track racing. I’d go to my local track of Riverhead Raceway (NY) on Long Island on occasion, but only a couple of times a year when the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour came to town. But I’d watch every Cup race on TV every Sunday and the occasional Saturday night.
In 2012, I found out that Kyle Busch was racing an event called the Snowball Derby. I listened to the race on Speed51.com (yeah, we did radio back then) and learned throughout the broadcast that this was a gigantic race and that the best of the best have raced in this race and have won this race. I’m not even a Kyle Busch fan, but I listened to this race because it was December and I was already starved for racing, and I found out about the event because of his participation.
The same thing happened a couple of years later when Busch ran double-duty in the Kalamazoo Klash (just like he’s doing next week) at Kalamazoo Speedway (MI) in a template-body Super Late Model and an Outlaw Super Late Model. In the Northeast, there are no Outlaw Late Models. I had never heard of that discipline of racing before it was announced that he was racing.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “You’re not much of a short track fan if you’ve never heard of Outlaw Late Models and the Snowball Derby.” Like I said, I wasn’t. But my eyes were opened to these great events because of Busch’s participation.
Many of Busch’s critics will also try to say that he’s taking away the spotlight from the short track racers. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Earlier this year, Busch competed in the Vermont Governor’s Cup at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. Marcel Gravel, the third-place finisher in that race, was among the drivers who raced side-by-side against Busch that night.
Gravel, a 21-year-old Vermont native, spends his days working in the produce department at Hannaford, a local supermarket. Following his third-place finish, all receipts printed out at the supermarket that week had the following words written on the bottom:
“Congrats Marcel Gravel for beating NASCAR Champion Kyle Busch.”
Can you tell me again how that is “taking away the spotlight from the locals?”
I feel confident in saying that having one’s name plastered on grocery receipts that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people will see is quite the spotlight for a short track racer such as Gravel.
Additionally, Thunder Road co-owner Cris Michaud told Speed51.com that every one of his drivers wanted to race against Busch that night, and every fan in attendance wanted to watch him race against the locals.
Busch put butts in seats that night, and that’s never ever a bad thing. Thunder Road officials told us there were approximately 5,000 people on the Thunder Road hillside, the best crowd at the track since Tony Stewart raced there in 2009.
Despite the rain that lasted until two-and-a-half hours before the race, people came out because – love him or hate him – they wanted to watch Kyle Busch take on the locals.
This past Tuesday night, Busch ran the ARCA Midwest Tour Dixieland 250 at Wisconsin International Raceway. He won the race, then had the win taken away in post-race technical inspection.
Immediately the comments were as follows: “Kyle Busch has to cheat to win just to try to take the money for the short track guys.”
Honestly, I don’t really care what happened, because his disqualification from the race might be better for the event than if he won it. The story of his disqualification was one of our most read stories of the last few months on Speed51.com. Tons of people saw the words “Kyle Busch disqualified” and clicked to read. They then found out about this prestigious short track race at a wonderfully unique race track in Kaukauna, Wisconsin that they may not have known about prior to that.
And what’s even better is that Busch spent time signing autographs for his fans, even after being disqualified. He didn’t whine or pout or stomp his feet like many of his detractors expected.
That Dixieland race was another race that saw close to 6,000 people in attendance, according to Gregg McKarns, the owner of the ARCA Midwest Tour.
But the attendance bump at these races isn’t the only thing Busch’s presence brings to the table, explained McKarns.
"I think what Kyle gives back to the Short Track industry is huge, especially on the asphalt side of things,” McKarns said. “It gives our fans that connection to somebody running on the 'big stage' that they saw run at their local track, against their local and regional stars. Whether they love him or not, that's their choice, but it is hard to discount what he is able to do behind the wheel. It is unfortunate to see the negative comments towards him, especially when he is doing something for the short tracks that very few will even consider anymore, and he does it with his own operation. That speaks volumes about his commitment to our sport. He is a racer through and through and that is refreshing to see. He is welcome at any of my events in the future."
As McKarns said, whether you love or hate Kyle Busch, that’s your choice. But his impact is undeniable. Kyle Busch’s presence is good for Short Track racing. Win, lose or DQ, it doesn’t matter. Busch simply being there is a great thing, and it should be embraced by all.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Featured photo credit: Speed51.com