The Frontstretch: Kyle Busch and the Five Amazing Mentors: A Tale of Speed and Impertinence by Amy Henderson -- Thursday July 26, 2007

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Kyle Busch and the Five Amazing Mentors: A Tale of Speed and Impertinence

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday July 26, 2007


Since his outburst about teamwork, or the lack thereof, at Daytona earlier this month, Kyle Busch has been under a microscope that is already on high power as he searches for a new ride for 2008 and beyond. He's been called a whiner, immature and spoiled. His comments were looked at as childish and jealous. Whatever the reasons for his comments or Busch's personality shortcomings, it was brought up that nobody at Hendrick Motorsports has ever taken Busch under his wing. Kyle Busch has never had a mentor, they exclaimed! How could he possibly know better?

I say, baloney. It's not his teammates' job to teach Busch basic etiquette and social behavior. Those are things Busch should have been taught by his parents long before his considerable talent thrust him into NASCAR. What he got instead was enabled. His parents went so far once as to fudge Kyle's age so he could race a year early; instead of telling him that he has to follow the rules and wait, just like everyone else. Given examples of entitlement like this through his childhood, not to mention lessons in how NOT to endear oneself to fans courtesy of his older brother Kurt, it at least makes you wonder a little less where he gets his attitude.

Surely it's not up to Busch's teammates to change that attitude. If they were to advise him on how to behave in every situation, how to be politically correct and polished, then, instead of saying they didn't mentor young Kyle, people would accuse them of making him "too boring." They'd call him "just another Jeff Gordon clone," or worse. No, none of the other drivers has coached him in every aspect of racing and behavior-but that doesn't mean he hasn't had ample opportunity to learn.

They say the best way to learn is by example, and if that old adage is true, then Kyle Busch has had the best teachers in the business. Not only is car owner Rick Hendrick one of the most respected persons in the garage, but Busch has had a string of teammates who personify class and a winning attitude-and he hasn't seemed to absorb any of it.

When Busch began his Busch Series career, he took over the championship car from the year before, inheriting the ride from champ Brian Vickers after he moved into a Nextel Cup ride. Although he has made judgment errors, most notably an ill-timed bump draft that sent then-teammate Jimmie Johnson and Most Popular Human Being Ever Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spinning into a twisted heap, Vickers worked with this teammates when he could and understood when he couldn't. Vickers, though also very young, has never acted out, even when his resignation from Hendrick Motorsports meant that Vickers was no longer a party to information and technology-sharing sessions. He understood the big picture, and accepted it with good grace. Surely that's a good example for another young driver.

Busch replaced a retiring Terry Labonte in the No. 5 Nextel Cup ride. If a driver was ever a picture of class and good behavior, surely Labonte is that driver. Quiet and humble though twice a champion, Labonte rarely spoke a bad word about anyone-even when he was on the receiving end of the chrome horn. Quiet and understated, Labonte understood the draft and how to use it. What finer lessons could a newcomer have had?

Jeff Gordon has driven his entire Cup career for Hendrick Motorsports. He also once wrecked a teammate at a restrictor plate track, sending Ken Schrader airborne in a sickening crash that scared Gordon more than it hurt Schrader. So Gordon watched Schrader in plate races and followed him, pushed him, drafted with him. From Schrader, always an outstanding restrictor plate racer, Gordon learned finesse and patience on the big tracks. And he began to win on them, too. Gordon, who has been loyal to Hendrick for fifteen seasons, and, when it came time to co-own a team with Hendrick, was loyal enough to his choice, a virtually unknown driver with just one Busch win to take a gamble on him. Gordon's willingness to learn from another teammate's example and his loyalty to both an organization and a young driver have made him both a champion and a championship car owner. Did Busch take notes on Gordon's leadership?

The unknown Busch driver Gordon had the foresight to hire is now the reigning Nextel Cup champion. Jimmie Johnson learned at the age of fourteen that if he wanted to race, he'd have to learn to speak well and sell a polished image to sponsors. Johnson's family simply didn't have the money to fund his competition, so Johnson went out and met people and convinced them to take a chance on him. He scrapped for rides and worked for everything he had. He's still afraid that if he should say or do the wrong thing, he'll be fired. Johnson has never forgotten how he got to the top of the NASCAR world. He takes every opportunity to voice his thanks to everyone who has helped him get to where he is. Hard work and gratitude would be tools a young driver like Busch could use to go as far as he wants.

Busch's newest teammate, Casey Mears, has a famous name to be sure, but rising through the ranks of off-road, open-wheel, and finally stock cars, Mears carved his own niche. While his name might have brought Mears opportunity, Mears' gritty determination and never-give-up attitude made those opportunities grow. Mears isn't entitled to anything in this game, and he knows it. Mears is also a truly nice individual. He truly enjoys his fans and friends, but doesn't take them for granted. He's never lost sight of who his true friends or family are. Mears works quietly in the draft, helping his teammates (and his friends-Mears pushed his childhood friend, Johnson to his Daytona 500 win) when he can, but knowing when it's every man for himself, and understanding that ultimately everyone does what they have to to win. Seems like a genuinely nice, determined young man who knows when to just be quiet and race would be a shining example.

So don't tell me Busch hasn't had a mentor. While he may never have looked past the end of his nose to see the examples that Rick Hendrick and his fellow HMS driver put before him, the examples were always there. Only Busch can say why he hasn't followed his teammates' lead. If he learns to curb the attitude and to work within a team structure, Busch has more than enough talent to take him to multiple Cup championships. However, there is more to being a champion than driving fast and having talent in the seat. Busch had three Cup Champions to learn those lessons from in his time at Hendrick Motorsports. It's too bad he never took the effort to truly learn.

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M. B. Voelker
07/27/2007 07:10 AM

I hope you’re not in position to be attempting to teach anyone anything because you won’t get far by going about your own business while expecting your student to pick it all up by observation. A teacher has to put himself/herself to the trouble of actually instructing his/her students.

Mentoring is a big topic in the business world. While some gifted few are able to “bootstrap” themselves to success, active mentoring is so critically important to most that offers over 27,000 books on the topic and a quick Google on “mentoring seminars” will produce over 1.5 MILLION hits.

I’m accomplished in the historic craft of handspinning. In the course of my past job as a museum docent and living history re-enactor I have been required to teach several hundred people the basics of that craft. Had I merely gone about the task of spinning wool into yarn while students observed and made an incidental comment or two as I worked only one student in the entire group had sufficient intuitive understanding that she might have succeeded in making yarn.

It took my active instruction — slow-motion demonstrations, backing up to repeat steps, placing my hands over my students’ hands to guide their fingers, supporting their efforts, correcting their mistakes, and, eventually pointing them to additional sources of advanced instruction when they were ready.

If active mentoring in racing weren’t important we wouldn’t be seeing so many teams hiring “driver coaches” for their development programs.

Kevin J
07/27/2007 07:26 AM

I disagree. The “best of the best” – don’t we all think the Cup drivers fit that title? – are ambitious enough to teach themselves and learn through observation, not someone holding their hand. Well written story.

07/27/2007 11:41 AM

I back kyle busch and his comments. He was hung out to dry at daytona. You had 4 roush cars followed by 3 hendricks cars on the top, and Kyle, Kurt, and Newman on the bottom. I like kyle calling it like it is. Your just so used to nascar PC version of things you expect someone to get screwed over and then thank the person who screwed em. Go Kyle! Keep it up and don’t take crap from no one! THey screw you! Screw em back!

Jason P
07/27/2007 12:44 PM

Great Story!!! Someone at the top of their league be it sports, business, acting etc… should be able to pick up on the successful ones around you and adjust your actions accordingly. There is a saying that talent only gets you so far!

Marcus R
07/27/2007 01:45 PM

Finally somebody who see that this kid is nothing more than a spoiled whiny brat, if Kyle was so interested in staying at HMS why didn’t he stay in contact with his own agent who was trying to pull a fast one on Rick. Grow up Kyle we have young men and women in harms way today that are younger than you and we never hear a complaint from them, I find it sad that these fine people are overseas fighting for your freedom while you whine and complain while making millions. I commend Rick there is only so much you can do to help an individual, so in the end you did the right thing by dumping Kyle.

Dot Jones
07/27/2007 03:21 PM

I was surprised to read about Kyle and his parents lying about his age. I thought only we in Las Vegas knew that. I had never seen it mentioned before today.

07/27/2007 04:55 PM

Great article. Kyle Bush is talented but he confuses that with entitlement.

07/27/2007 05:08 PM

you are forgetting that Kyle Busch had the Mentoring of the Jack Roush camp before switching to Hendrick

07/27/2007 07:35 PM

While it is true that many skills are learned through teaching and showing, social skills are a much more complex learning process, and those are the skills I’m taling about here. Kyle’s among probably the top five most talented individuals in the garage as far as driving goes-he doesn’t need to be taught how to drive. We learn most of our social behaviors by watching people close to us and either emulating, or choosing not to emulate, that behavior. Sure, we have to be told things like, “put your napkin in your lap” and “address an adult by their surname,” but social behavior is learned also through an incredibly huge amount of observation. Without boring anyone with cognitive theory (I have taught English and science for several years and know when the “telling” ends and the “showing” begins-I tell them how to diagram a sentence and show them respect and fairness) I will say that social skills are learned differently than many others.

Generally an adult doesn’t have to be sat down and told what behavior is polite and what behavior is impertinentbecasue they A. learned that as children and B. Observe the actions of other adults.

Is mentoring in the workplace important? Absolutely. I actively seek advice from my colleagues every chance I get. But for any type of teaching-direct or by example- to be effective, the person being mentored needs to want to be mentored. Had Kyle asked, I’m sure someone would have taken him and said, “okay, this is how you behave when…” but by accounts, he never showed that initiative.

07/28/2007 08:29 AM

Good article Amy. I’m in professional sales and the strongest survive. When your at the top of your game there is a self assurance that is acquired over time that gives you confidence in your abilities. But it wasn’t always so. I learned early in my career that the top producers don’t just spill their guts on their vast knowledge to just anybody.They are careful with who they share their experiences with. Now that I have achieved that status I have a better understanding of why.
When I mentor people now I look for certain character traits in that person. Are they a company person, trainable, team oriented, humble, honest, sincere, truly wants to help the buyer, not just make money from them. Do they take pride for who they work for and it truly shows.Are they competive but not cut throat. These are some things I look for.
Now we have all seen some of the antics played out by Kyle in the media I just wonder what his team has seen that we fans haven’t.
At my company we have had very talented sales people come here but with their bad attitudes became a cancer to the rest of the sales force and we simply let them go. It would not surprise me in the least if something similar took place with kyle Bush

John Wyckoff
07/29/2007 03:12 PM

Kyle Busch is a good example of what is wrong in sports today as a whole. Young athletes getting too much too soon. Although there have been a few who were able handle it. Kyle needed to look towards someone like Jeff Gordon and following his example in his own way. All to often he let his mouth overpower the talent he has as a driver. Stands to reason why there aren’t that many teams looking at him. They know he has talent but they also know of his cocky attiude at times and they really need the attitude. He really doesn’t need a mentor on the track he needs to look for a mentor to handle things off the track. That is where he gets himself in trouble. Kyle needs to be humbled and by the looks of it he may well be heading down that road before too long.


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