On a beautiful late fall day in Rockingham, North Carolina Kurt Busch took the next step in his recent drag racing endeavor. The Las Vegas native ran quick enough, in a Roy Hill-owned Pro Stock, to earn his Pro Stock license.
There was no fanfare, no champagne, no cheering crowds, just empty concrete, steel and wood looking on from both the left and the right lanes with the exception of a husband and wife from Akron, Ohio who were on site to collect on a wife's gift to her husband for his 50th birthday.
There were no other competitors on site. It was Kurt, his drag racing crew, the track prep crew and Roy Hill conducting the first day of a three day class of teacher, student and the necessary back-up personnel needed for a former Winston Cup, now Sprint Cup, champion to earn his stripes in a Pro Stock car.
Busch, driver of the Miller Lite Dodge on the Sprint Cup circuit and his drag racing crew, individuals dedicated to drag racing, under the tutelage of Hill were put through the paces over the course of three days to ensure come 2011 they would be ready for whatever might transpire.
The whispered word, at least around the sole media member allowed on site, was Busch will return to Gainesville, Fla next March with hopes of making his NHRA Pro Stock debut.
On the evening of the second day Busch paused from his schedule to confirm the goal.
“If we're ready,” noted Busch, “We plan on renting a car from Allen Johnson, with the blessing of Mopar, and attempt to make the field in Gainesville.”
There was no mistaking the words, “if we're ready” as Busch revealed plans which previously have been kept close to the vest. “There is a big difference between 7.5 seconds and what you need to run to be make a Pro Stock field,” admitted Busch, who has advanced quickly in his drag racing endeavors.
“This isn't as easy as I thought it would be,” admitted the past Sprint Cup Series champion, who also owns and has run a Dodge in the Street Stock division. “But, we're getting there and the past three days haven't been all about me learning the race car. This has been about my crew learning what it takes to prepare one of these cars to race.”
Busch and crew worked on two cars simultaneously, learning how to change transmissions, rear ends, adjust tire pressures and many of the hidden demands of running a Pro Stock race car. After every run, Hill and Busch walked the first 60 feet of the track analyzing the run, while the crew swarmed over the car learning what it was to maintain a Pro Stock race car.
On the very first day Busch went quick enough to earn his NHRA Pro Stock license; but nowhere near quick enough to compete against the seasoned veterans. There is still plenty of work to be done. Work every team must complete before showing up at the track hoping to compete.
“He's earned his license,” said Roy Hill, owner of Roy Hill's Drag Racing School and a former owner of Rockingham Dragway, then adding “That doesn't mean he's ready to compete at the top level. He'll get there but this isn't as easy as everyone thinks. Kurt's learning and learning quickly and it won't be long before he is ready.”
Asked if he's ever had a student outside the drag racing world show the progress Busch has made over the past year, Hill just shook his head and said, “No.
“He's not out here playing around,” added Hill. “Kurt's very serious and very talented. He's learning quickly this isn't the same as driving a stock car and he is adapting quickly to the skill set needed to race a Pro Stock car.”
Busch likened Hill to his own father when it came to being a teacher.
“He's a lot like my father was when he was taking me to the dirt tracks teaching me how to drive a stock car,” said Busch. “Roy Hill is a great teacher. He's not only helping me understand how to drive these race cars but he is directing my crew in the process of maintaining the car, as well.”
Even when Busch struggled with the Pro Stock car, Hill was there to walk him through the issues and even took the heat for some of the problems.
When it came to comparing his day job, as a Sprint Cup Series driver versus the thrill of driving a Pro Stocker, Busch said, “Driving one of these cars is a two-minute high. It's a 10 for the two minutes it takes to complete a run. Driving a Cup car is a four hour session which has it's highs and lows but is a seven for almost the entire time.”
Busch loves his sevens as he battles week in and week out in the Sprint Cup Series, but those two minutes worth of 10's driving down the drag strip have definitely earned a favored place in his heart.
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