TAKING THE SCENIC ROUTE
The video starts with Kurt Busch in a bar, when NASCAR icon Michael Waltrip appears on television, talking about a rumor that he is retiring. Next, Kurt receives a surprise phone call: It’s a pilot waiting on a distant runway, saying he needs to hurry up and get there, ASAP! This kicks off a speed run for the ages, as Kurt Busch revs his stock car across all of the iconic bridges from Marathon, Florida, down to Key West while reflecting on highlights from his NASCAR career.
Congrats on the release of the new video, Kurt. How long did it take to shoot all the action and what made you choose Key West as the backdrop?
We filmed for four days and we chose Key West for the picturesque scenes. We wanted to really create the imagery and the cinematography that the Keys provide within the video.
And so it was awesome driving our NASCAR car at 200 mph over the bridges all the way down to Key West.
What inspired the idea of the bridges as focal points?
First of all, the safety aspect of shutting down bridges. Meaning that no other cars were going to be on the roadway. And no wildlife, either (laughs)! There is actually a section of the roadway that is protected for the deer that roam freely down there. But most of all, it was about the look of the water and the cinematography. That turquoise water, the openness of the bridges, the road trip with the wind in your hair and that feel of just being out on the open road. That was the imagery that we were trying to set.
Did you already have a full-fledged concept in mind, or did you let Monster Energy run with it?
I wanted Monster to come up with some ideas based off my primary ideas of driving a NASCAR car out on the streets. Out on the highways. And I said, ‘Hey with Covid and everything on lockdown we’ll all be safe. We’ll all social distance. But down here in the Keys it’s a bit more open with all the space.’
Do you have a personal relationship with Key West?
I do not, but I believe everybody does when they think of a party. Or when they think of getting away. Or when they are on a road trip. That road… it’s actually a really long dead-end road! (laughs)
NASCAR VIDEO MEETS TWO-WHEELED ACTION
As it turns out, the ‘dead-end’ road through the Florida Keys gets some real live action in the video. And not just by Kurt Busch pushing his Monster Energy NASCAR ride to the limits: Look forward to high-octane cameos from Monster Energy athletes Axell Hodges and Taka Higashino and the Unknown Industries crew of Harley Davidson riders. Also, let’s not forget certified legends of NASCAR flexing their acting skills in this unique NASCAR video.
The video kicks off with a TV broadcast of Michael Waltrip. What is your relationship and the backstory for featuring him in the new video?
Waltrip is a great commentator, a great personality. He’s always that class clown type guy. And doing Truck Series broadcasts with him, playing golf with him, different charity events, we have just kicked off a fun relationship. And even with his time with Monster Energy, we have spent more and more events together. So it just seemed organic and natural to have Michael as a TV broadcaster drop the news and create the breaking news surprise on everyone.
Aside from Waltrip, you have some two-wheeled cameos in the video, like the Unknown crew of Harley riders. What was it like working with them and do you follow motor sports outside of car racing?
Definitely. I like to work with the Harley guys and then Axell and the motocross guys hitting the ramps. I love and respect two-wheel guys. Moto GP, and our boy Valentino Rossi and that whole gang. Tons of respect. The motocross guys. Supercross guys with Eli Tomac. Again, respect for anybody on two wheels. I do follow motorsports everywhere, and it is just a blast to blend in my world with them. The Harley guys had some cameos in there playing pool. It is just fun to blend everybody together in our Monster Energy lifestyle.
The video also features stunts from Monster FMX riders Axell Hodges and Taka Higashino. How did that come about?
We wanted to feature these elements of motocross freestyle and the Unknown Industries Harley Davidson guys. We had visions of blending in a ton of other motorsports forums and other athletes in the Monster Energy branding. But again, it’s just cool to work with a different group of guys and seeing their professionalism.
Which moments from the shoot stand out the most?
Doing the video and having the imagery of the car and the open road. The speed. And then we had the helicopter chasing us. We had the guys on the dirt bikes doing the jumps, we had guys on Harley’s doing wheelies. It was bringing back flashbacks of my career. Looking back at all the people that helped me through the years. All the relationships that I developed and made. That was the best part of it all. Just sitting there smiling from my soul as the video was being produced.
LOOKING AT KURT BUSCH’S CAREER HIGHLIGHTS IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR
The “Shifting Gears” NASCAR video takes some time on the open road to look back at milestone moments of Kurt Busch’s NASCAR career. Started out in Las Vegas as the son of racing enthusiast Tom Busch, he literally spent his formative years on the racetrack and first made a splash by earning Rookie of the Year honors on the 1998 NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour. From there, it only took one year to claim the series championship as the first of many accolades over the years. Kurt Busch’s NASCAR record includes wins in all three of NASCAR's top divisions: the Cup Series, the Xfinity Series, and the Camping World Truck Series.
You’re currently the longest-tenured active driver in the Cup Series in terms of career starts. Do you reflect on this fact much or just go forward?
You know, it is something that pops up more and more. That element of, ‘Yes, I’ve been out there the longest.’ Some guys have come in and retired since I’ve even been here. We have lost a lot of big legends with retirement or moving on. In a way, that’s what this video is: It gives me time to reflect. And I do enjoy and relish the fact that I have been out there the longest because it shows my staying power. It shows my longevity within the sport.
What has been the biggest learning experience in your career?
The biggest learning experience probably was handling emotions, handling media and creating that professionalism. I played a lot of baseball when I was a kid. So when I was younger, I just had that baseball mentality, ‘I’m the athlete, and I’m focused on my craft when I’m here. And I don’t have to worry about anything else in terms of PR and media.’ That was the biggest learning experience for me because I had to make a complete 180-degree turn. I was going in the wrong direction when I first showed up on the circuit with my personality and learn how I had to act around others.
You’ve won thirty-two Cup races and all three of NASCAR's top divisions. What trait allowed you to reach these milestones?
When I first started racing, my dad helped me and my little brother all the way through. He taught us everything about the cars and one thing that we did a lot when I was first starting out was: I drove a bunch of different racing divisions, even on the same night! So, whether it was a little legends car, or a stock car or a modified ride, I was racing them all. All of the time and jumping back and forth with each of the set ups and each of the driving styles within the cars. So looking back, I think that is what helped me adapt to anything in motorsports.
You’ve also adapted to different terrain, winning poles and races on every type of track on the NASCAR schedule. What’s your favorite track?
That was a big feather in the cap to win poles and races on all styles of tracks. My favorite? It’s the short tracks. It’s Bristol Motor Speedway. That track has been the best to me over the years. I’ve got six wins there. Just that short track, the high-speed action of the high banks. Things move quick and you’ve got to adapt.
The video will drop on the eve of Daytona 500. What’s your relationship with that particular Speedway?
Each year I go back respecting the racetrack. There were years of disappointment in not winning, but I never demanded that the track owed me something, or that the race owed me something. I feel honored, privileged and I am enjoying this opportunity this late in my career. Like we talked about, it’s my 20th anniversary. It’s been four years since I won there, but all of it gives me that fuel and the desire to win it.
THE ROAD AHEAD: IS KURT BUSCH READY TO RETIRE?
The “desire to win it” still firmly in place, what lies ahead for Kurt Busch? NASCAR pundits have speculated about his retirement for the past seasons, but Busch has so far silenced these rumors by keeping the wins coming. But since the “Shifting Gears” NASCAR video openly flaunts the idea of taking that final ride into the sunset, here’s Kurt Busch addressing the issue of retirement in his own words.
The video flaunts the question of retiring, but you’re still winning races. Your last win was in Las Vegas the 2020 South Point 400, right?
You know, that’s what the tease is within the video – is it time after 20 years of full-time Cup racing and pursuing championship after championship? Is this it? I still feel like I am at the top of my game, but it gets tougher and tougher each year to train and bounce back. And to get through the gauntlet of the point system. But I still got the fire in me!
Do you think that the age limit in sports has changed over the years?
Age is just a number. It’s about opportunity and being aware of your surroundings and feeling it from the inside. Feeling it from your soul. If you’ve still got it – go for it! Keep going.
Back in the day, most professional athletes would retire in their mid-thirties across most sports. Are motorsports different?
I think in NASCAR it is a bit of the opposite where guys used to get in at age 35 and go to 55. That’s a 20-year timeline. Now guys are getting in earlier. I was lucky enough to get in at 22, which was super young back then. And [Joey] Logano got in as a teenager, my little brother got in as a teenager. And we’re kind of carrying the 20-to-40 years range nowadays. So yes, racing and motorsport are a little different than most. Twenty years of racing is a long time, but there still are the golden years ahead of me.
Going into this event, it’s been exactly 20 years since your first Daytona 500 race in February 2001. How does it feel?
I just love going to the racetrack and challenging myself to do it here even after two decades. I’m not that young guy anymore. I am definitely the veteran out there and you have to approach it from that side.
This is the first time that the Great American Race is happening amid the pandemic. Do you feel safe going into race week?
I do 100 percent. The infield area is very controlled where I have my motorhome. NASCAR has firm protocols in place. They allow very limited amounts of people on the pit road, still. Hopefully, the atmosphere and the ambiance will be there pre-race. Even if it’s not, I get in my zone and know that it’s the same level of importance that this race has always been since 1959. So I’m ready! I’m focused and lasered in on it. Because as soon as they drop that green flag all that hype goes away, and you got to focus on the 500 miles.
What’s your take on releasing the video on this special occasion?
I enjoyed making this video. This reflection through the Keys and driving and experiencing my Monster Energy NASCAR car out on the open road. That has never been done before and it took all of that teamwork. It took the trust and belief in everybody. I mean, at one point the helicopter is coming straight at me at 100 miles an hour. I am going toward him at 200 mph. That crossover of 300 mph was insane, and it gives you those flash moments of all the cool people, all the hard work and the commitment that it takes to be successful at this level.
Do you have concrete plans for the road ahead?
Looking forward, I see more racing ahead of me. I see different bucket list races around the world. And that blends into how I see the future for NASCAR. I feel compelled to give back and to give my time to NASCAR even after I am done driving and to say thank you for what the sport has given me. Whether that is mentoring young drivers, entertaining our fans through the commentary and TV booth. You name it, I am open to anything.
So as the final question, is Kurt Busch retiring or not?
It’s in the video, and up for you to decide. But at the end of the day, I’ll always be a racer.
Best of luck at Daytona this weekend and congrats on the video, Kurt.
Watch Kurt Busch in the new “Shifting Gears” NASCAR video presented by Monster Energy, live now on YouTube.