NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, who controls the No. 1 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, will take part in the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday. He will be driving with Construction Electrician Petty Officer Second Class (U.S. Navy) Phil Grieser's name on his windshield during the event as part of the 600 Miles of Remembrance, continuing a tradition in which NASCAR drivers honor the memories of those that sacrificed their lives. That said, this is far from the only manner Busch uses to pay tribute to those in the United States Armed Forces.
Speaking with Pop Culture in an exclusive interview ahead of Sunday’s race, Busch explained his passion for the military. He has taken part in the annual Memorial Day Weekend race several times and put the name of a fallen military member on his car, but the connection goes much deeper. It originally started when he visited hospitals and those injured in combat. Busch explained that one of these trips led to one longstanding friendship, as well as someone challenging his driving skills.
"For me, it started with trips to Walter Reed and Bethesda Medical Center and going into the rehab area where our men and women who have served and gone through such hardship and their lives have changed forever,” Busch said. "I just connected with a couple of Marines just randomly. And one of them, he called me out. And he was in a rough state. I'll give him that. I would say that he was on some heavy meds. And you could get that sense of frustration, anger, and even more difficult thoughts were going through their minds. And one of them calls me out. He goes, 'you're just here to get your picture taken, aren't you?' And I'm like, 'okay buddy. What's going on here?' And I put my arm around him.
"And, by the end of the conversation, he goes, 'you don't know much about me, but I'm a racer. And I've raced all across the U.S. and all different kinds of cars.' And this military member said to me, he goes, 'when I get out of here, I'm going to take you to the go-kart track and I'm going to kick your a—.' And I said, 'absolutely. Here's my phone number.' And we've been friends ever since. It takes those moments sometimes of the difficult beginnings in relationships to create the fondest of friendships."
Liam Dwyer is the marine that "called out" Busch, and the two men have remained friends since this interaction in "2012 or 2013." Busch never revealed whether Dwyer beat him at the go-kart track, but he further explained how he tries to honor military members every time he heads to the track. The Cup Series champion actually has a special program, Eventix, that he uses to set aside several tickets for those in service to the country. This program is currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of fans, but Busch is using the time to examine other ways to extend the program potentially.
"I do know that my program, the Eventix program, that I have in place where I make available 100 tickets to every NASCAR race — I've worked with other drivers from their home track and sponsors that are in the communities to help create more tickets to be available," Busch said. "This program, it's on hold right now because we don't have them coming to the track. And so, I'm working on ways that we can further develop the process, and making sure that there's tickets available.0comments
"Or even grabbing another year and getting them available for our first responders," Busch continued. "People that have been on the frontline through this pandemic and creating an environment where it's easy for them to get tickets. Hopefully, that these tracks with such large seating capacities, they can start to open up and we can get 50 percent of the property reopened and have a good section for our military and our first responders."
Busch does not know if the tracks will actually reopen in the near future, but he is hoping that the fans and military members will be able to attend once again, albeit in a safe manner. He expressed optimism about the continuing opportunity to provide tickets to those that either served in the United States Armed Forces or worked on the coronavirus pandemic frontlines. For now, his focus will remain on honoring Grieser and striving to win the Coca-Cola 600.