NASCAR driver Kurt Busch never forgot his friend Chris Trickle
Kurt Busch, right, went to work for a racing legend in Roger Penkse after first competing for Jack Roush. He has grown under Penske's guidance and appears to be headed for another strong finish in the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. (Tom Donoghue photography)
Penske Motorsports driver Kurt Busch has earned his stardom. He won the 2004 NASCAR Winston Cup championship and his most recent win at Atlanta Motor Speedway was yet another big-time accomplishment for a young man who grew up eating, sleeping and breathing the sport of auto racing.
Back in 1997 when the young Las Vegas driver was competing in short track events while working as a meter reader for the Las Vegas Valley Water District; I was the PR guy for Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
On one day during that year both Kurt and I found ourselves thrown into a situation neither of us had ever expected. Chris Trickle, a talented and highly-respected NASCAR Southwest Tour driver sponsored by Star Nursery, had been shot while driving his car in southwest Las Vegas.
When it was determined that the popular Trickle would not be able to compete in the near future, Busch was named the driver of the Star Nursery Camaro in NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series competition.
Immediately upon hearing that Busch was the new driver for Star Nursery, I knew the announcement was noteworthy. At least from a local standpoint Busch being named as a replacement was important.
I called Kurt suggesting that we do a media tour prior to the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s short track. The story of the shooting of Trickle was important and to me, it was also important that the public in Southern Nevada knew who would drive the car at least for the immediate period.
Busch didn’t hesitate when agreeing that a media tour was appropriate. I did not offer any advice how he should handle himself and explained that I would (a) set up the media tour and (b) accompany him to the various media outlets.
Frankly, I was nervous because I didn’t know how the media would react. However, I offered Kurt no advice, assembled the tour and picked up Kurt the next morning.
I think we visited a total of about 12 outlets including radio, television and print outlets. Each member of the media seemed to appreciate that this particular development was not only significant but also created a significant level of pressure on the driver who had been called in to replace the victim of a horrific crime.
Busch was brilliant at each media stop especially considering that he was only 18 at the time. His concern for his fellow driver and friend was evident.
At the end of the media tour, I drove Busch to his home adding “OK, make us proud on Saturday night.” I figured if he finished in the top 20 of an event with top-notch talent that would be a huge accomplishment.
Even better, Busch won the event one night later at the short track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He was dominate in a field of kingpin short track competitors and when he climbed out of the car in Victory Circle, television cameras from every station in Las Vegas were present to capture the moment.
Poised and prepared, Busch said something to the affect of “Chris, this victory is for you. We’re all thinking about you.”
Every television station in Las Vegas ran the footage and print outlets picked up on the moment, too. A young man thrust into a stressful situation not only won the race but immediately remembered to salute his friend at the same time. He earned the respect of the local media not only as a driver but also as a caring person.
About a year later, two significant developments would take place. Chris Trickle would lose his gallant fight to survive and Kurt Busch would continue his climb up the ladder to the elite of NASCAR’s top competition.
After winning the NASCAR Winston Cup title, Busch continued to exemplify his true class when he invited his friends from Las Vegas including the Trickle family to the awards ceremony in New York. Among those who attended the event were Trickle’s father, Chuck; Star Nursery owner Craig Keough and friend Jerry Spilsbury.
Busch moved up the ladder yet again when he left Roush Motor Sports to sign with legendary motor sports king Roger Penske. The move was both gutsy and intelligent and Busch is now working for a man who appreciates talent; combines it with excellent machinery while capping it with the best PR guy in the sport in Tom Roberts who also handled public relations for Rusty Wallace.
Busch won the pole at Las Vegas and captured his second Spring race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He has grown tremendously especially since joining Penske Motorsports.
It’s all coming together again for the 31 year-old Busch who has combined a level of class with incredible talent to power down in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
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