The Frontstretch: Burned At The YouTube Stake: How Technology Brought Busch Down by Mike Neff -- Tuesday December 6, 2011

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With the advent of modern technology, every time Kurt Busch stepped out of his motorhome at the racetrack he ran the risk of being caught saying something stupid.

Kurt Busch is unemployed after a mutually agreed upon release by Penske Racing which was spurred on by his videotaped outburst from the garage area at Homestead Miami Speedway. By now most anyone who is a fan of NASCAR who wants to has watched his profanity laced tirade that erupted after Busch’s transmission detonated in the early laps of the final race of the season and possibly damaged championship contender Tony Stewart’s car. The fact that so many people have been able to watch the exchange, which took place in a restricted area of the race track, speaks volumes about how race fans get their information in today’s social media intensive electronic world. In the end, that abundance of unfiltered information that is available to anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone is what cost Busch his job.

Kurt Busch is certainly not the first race car driver with a bad attitude when his car is running like a “tub of sh*t.” That description was uttered by A.J. Foyt after his qualifying run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in 1987. David Pearson, one of the best to ever strap into a stock car, ultimately parted ways with the Wood Brothers in 1979 after his lug nuts were not tightened on his car during a pit stop at Darlington which resulted in the wheels literally falling off the car as it reached the end of the pit lane. Just think of the language uttered on both sides after that day. Truthfully, there are hundreds of other examples of drivers who would speak their mind at the drop of a hat, but the only people who heard it were those intended to and a handful of other people who were in the general vicinity.

Back then, there were a handful of reporters and an occasional television camera around to capture the events. There was a mutual respect between the drivers and the media that less than flattering altercations would usually not be public knowledge because it wasn’t meant for public consumption. In the rare instances where a filter could not be in place, like with Foyt’s outburst that went over the public address system at the racetrack, then it became public and the PR folks would have to work to put as positive spin as possible on the event.

Today, that filter is no longer in place. Anyone with a flip video camera or smart phone, that has a hot garage pass, can shoot a video and post it to Youtube, Facebook or Twitter in a matter of seconds. Most of us have seen the television commercial where the guy asks his buddies if they know how to post a video to Facebook and they post him actually asking that question immediately. As a result, interactions that are less than flattering are no longer swept under the rug with a wink and a laugh after the emotions settle down. Now, when a driver tells people in the general vicinity to get this MF’er out of my face, the video can be seen before the checkered flag falls on the event. Drivers now have to bite their tongues whenever they are anywhere outside of the confines of their private residence, motor home or team transporter or they risk potentially losing their ride.

The problem isn’t that the drivers use colorful language because anyone who listens to a race radio knows that most all of them will drop some pretty salty sailor talk in the heat of the moment. The problem is when this language goes out into a public forum and the drivers are wearing their colors and logo; it reflects negatively on their company, or at least that is the perception that the sponsor has. With the millions of dollars that these companies pour into the sport, they are more and more protective of their brand and the actions that drivers can have on their organizations. When something like Busch’s outburst at Jerry Punch shows up on Youtube and generates 705,000 views, the company will immediately put pressure back on the team owner to do something or they’ll take their money to another team that will be more protective of their image.

Unfortunately for Busch, the Punch incident was just the straw that broke the camel’s back in a year that, for whatever reason, saw Busch become more and more abusive towards his team. Busch led the series point standings early in the year but began to see his team’s performance slip as the schedule wore on. He made comments during media availability early in the year that his team had been the only one to consistently perform at Penske and that they had to bear the weight of the entire effort for Dodge and Penske in the Sprint Cup series. Shortly after those comments, Brad Keselowski’s finishes began to improve while Busch’s continued to slide and his position in the points became more tenuous. It eventually boiled over at Richmond with his radio meltdown that included the “Monkey F(*$%ing a football” analogy. As a result, the top engineer at Penske left the company and the direction of their efforts was altered which ended up with Busch making the Chase, but playing second fiddle to his upstart teammate.

With the Chase wearing on and the outlook of Busch’s season crumbling after he managed to win the race at Dover, his attitude on the radio turned darker and darker. His radio tirades even garnered their own segment on NASCAR Race Hub on Speed during Jimmy Spencer’s segment most every week. That notoriety would fuel Twitter every week with “What did Kurt say on the radio this time” messages. Then, the Punch video surfaced and it all imploded. Shell/Pennzoil put out a statement, Penske Racing had to dive into full damage control. In the end, the media exposure of Busch’s poor behavior was too much for the Sponsor and team to deal with.

Kurt Busch is not the first driver to talk badly about his cars and his crew. He’s not the first one to use very foul language directed at the people who work on his cars and make the decisions about how to try and make those cars better. Sadly for him, he is now in a new era where people can share that information far more easily than they did in the past and sponsorship dollars are much harder to come by. In the end, Busch ended up being the MF’er who had to get out of the face of the folks at Penske. Can’t wait to read the next Tweet about who he’s going to drive for next year.

Potential Replacements In No. 22
Future For Busch And Penske
Details Behind Firing In Our FREE Newsletter

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12/06/2011 07:10 AM

MF Kurt is out of here. Way to go Roger P.

Don Mei
12/06/2011 09:33 AM

I wonder how many of us could bear the kind of scrutiny of our lives that contemporay American society now imposes on anyone with the slightest modicum of celebrity. It’s a TMZ world out there and we are all the poorer for it. Personally, if it were up to me I would make invasion of privacy a criminal offense.

Bill B
12/06/2011 12:32 PM

Give me a million dollars up front and you can scrutinize any part of my life you want (well, maybe with the exception of the crapper).
With fame and fortune comes being in the public eye which brings scrutiny. If it’s all that bad he can have my job and I’ll take his. I doubt that I’ll be able to do as good a job driving but I’d bet a lot of money that he would have just as hard a time doing mine.

So yeah,,, let’s all feel sorry for the millionaire with a job he loves because part of his job is putting on a professional face when he’s in public.

Sue Rarick
12/06/2011 02:05 PM

Today every performer knows that their life is not their own anymore. It’s probably the main reason they ‘retire’ as soon as they can.

Every word or action becomes fodder for the smart phone crowd. And for drivers not even the ‘hot pass’ area is safe anymore.

I would not be suprised to fans hearing nothing but no comments or inane platitudes in 2012. As a performer I would suggest that every driver learn the phrase “I’ll have to look at the video before I comment” then run like mad to my trailer.

Don Mei
12/06/2011 02:12 PM

Bill, I dont feel sorry for him…he brought it on himself but the reality is a lot of our Nascar heroes wouldnt look so good if every thing they said or did instantly became a matter of public record. You really think Wallace or Elliot or Earnhardt etc etc didnt react to given situations exactly the way Busch did? If you believe that, you are naive. The constant scrutiny simply wasn’t there. the sad part about it is it squashes personality given the corporate culture of Nascar. Just imagine if you could listen to someone talking about Dale Earnhardt minutes after he was punted out of the race.

Bill B
12/06/2011 02:28 PM

I don’t think any of us would look so good if we went about our business while being recorded (especially me). All I am saying is that it’s part of the deal. Kurt could run in another racing series and be under less scrutiny, he just wouldn’t make the big $$$ and be famous. Take your pick, it’s a package deal. It’s up to him. He’s made enough money where he could retire and run on unknown dirt tracks around the country. But if he wants a sponsor to write a check with a lot of zeros in it, then he has to be willing to be the sponsor’s bitch and that includes public scrutinization.

Bill B
12/06/2011 02:31 PM

And I agree that the level of scrutinization has been ramped up in this techno world we live in. But you have to agree that Earnhardt’s sponsor’s check probably didn’t have as many zeros after it in 1982 nor was his gross income anywhere near Kurt’s.

12/06/2011 02:50 PM

every action has a reaction. kb lives in a world where people always have cameras and always have access to the internet. in this day and age, he has to remind himself of that, yes, and action may be taken the wrong way (and i’m not condoning his actions at all here). it’s split second decision making, no different than the decision of making it 3 wide on the first turn on the first lap.

He took a job as a public figure, and as a public figure, stuff like this is..well, public. I don’t feel sorry for him, and trust me I don’t think he’s the only one who has these outbursts, but when the media gets the sound byte, or when someone posts it to you tube, and websites reference it…well, it’s gonna be out there.

It’s very interesting how it has all turned out, i was pretty sure Roger Penske wasn’t going to take much more, and good for him to make this move. There are many drivers out there HUNGERING for an opportunity, Kurt Busch just make someone very lucky.

I bet his brother is counting his blessings at this very moment, maybe it takes this to make him grow up.

Carl D.
12/06/2011 02:58 PM

Sue: “I would not be suprised to fans hearing nothing but no comments or inane platitudes in 2012.”

Sue has a point. When a driver doesn’t know if they are being recorded (or if they risk getting secret fine speaking the truth), why take a chance on saying anything at all? Get ready for a vanilla-flavored Nascar.

Bill B
12/06/2011 03:21 PM

What do you mean “get ready for vanilla NASCAR”.
Drivers have been well advised to be vanilla about the same time that companies started phasing out “Merry Christmas” because it offended the PC crowd.

If the business model for drivers having a ride didn’t rely on needing mega corporate sponsorship then there wouldn’t be any pressure to be PC or, in this case, vanilla.

So, those of you who moan about vanilla drivers where are you placing the blame? On the sponsor who demands non-controversial babble from the drivers or on the drivers because they don’t say “to hell with what the sponsor wants” (or another way of putting that for the driver not being stupid and biting the hand that feeds).

Put the blame where it belongs, on the balless corporations who cringe at the first sign of controversy.

Don Mei
12/06/2011 03:33 PM

No Bill. its only part of the deal if you LET it be part of the deal. If you are good enough it wont matter. What amuses me about Nascar fans is they rant about old “white bread” Jimmy Johnson because he is the perfect corporate type but when someone goes too far the other way, hes a bad guy. Obviously the more commercialized a sport or activity becomes, the more pressure there is on the participants to conform to someone else’sstandard of behavior. What you simply haven’t addressed is the despicable notion that any bozo with a $200 recording device and the scruples of a skunk can invade someones privacy like this. I am obsessive about my privacy; its a good thing I am not a public figure because anyone sticks a camera in my face is going to have to extract it from a very dark location. Im getting pretty tired of living in a gotcha society and I would imagine that people like Busch and Stewart and Johnson are too. Me, Ill just make my judgements based on how well a man drives a race car…after all thats what it’s all about, isnt it?? LOL

12/06/2011 05:14 PM

These guys are very well paid, and not just for their ability to drive a race car. Im sure they know, and have had it explained to them what their responsibilities are. If he couldnt do it, oh well.

Shayne Flaherty
12/06/2011 10:14 PM

Kurt Busch, not technology, brought this upon himself. PERIOD.

Bill B
12/07/2011 07:15 AM

Well Don,
I agree 100% about privacy. That’s why I am not on facebook or twitter, etc., the less of an electronic trail I leave the better off I am.
And yes there are a lot of Bozos out there with cameras. If you aren’t in your house your free game whether you agree with that or not, it’s a fact. When George Orwell wrote about Big Brother in “1984” it was assumed that the government would be the ones watching our every move. But with a camera on every cell phone and a cell phone in every pocket, WE are Big Brother.
I must point out that you are making an assumption with your statement that “Nascar fans rant about old white bread Jimmie Johnson”. You are inferring that ALL NASCAR fans want drivers to act like WWF personalities or, at least, punks. That is not true. Some of us can respect those drivers who act like professional adults and carry themselves the same way that we are forced to carry outselves in our daily dealings. With that being said, sure, I like watching a guy make an idiot out of himself on national television as much as the next guy, but that doesn’t mean I respect him.

Carl D.
12/07/2011 11:52 AM

A driver can be colorful without being a jerk. It’s not like they have to be either Jimmy Johnson or Kyle Busch. Guys like Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart tend to speak their mind and race agressively without being an embarrassment to their sponsors. Still, the fact that a camera may catch them when they’re unaware or that they may incur a “secret” fine by Nascar will probably result in a more guarded public persona by the drivers.

Robert Eastman
12/07/2011 04:09 PM

“Earth to Kurt Busch”… “Earth to Kurt Busch”… …“Do you read me Kurt?”… “Time for your Reality Check!”… “Do you copy Kurt?” “Hey partner… I’m afraid you’ve blacked-out… breathing all that oxygen-starved ‘rare-ified air’ up there… “Hey Space-cadet… I’m talking to youuu!”
“Kurt… it’s not about You! It’s not about… if you’re having Fun! It’s really not even about ‘driving race-cars’… IT IS about ‘Driving Sales’! It IS about being a ‘Celebrity Spokesman’ marketing your Corporate Sponsor’s products! IT IS about projecting a ‘positive image’ to the whole world so people will want to identify with your Corporate Sponsor… buy their goods and services… and wear their ‘Coporate Logo’ around, creating even more revenue-generating publicity!”
“Hey Kurt, driving a vehicle around is worth $30-$60,000 per year (just ask any cab/truck driver). You were being paid that much or more every week… so it’s time to refocus on reality by remembering exactly what you were being paid for.”
“Oh, one more thing… just a little hint… you don’t get your Corporate Sponsor’s positive message out to the millions of people through the mass media of television by cussing out the ‘gate-keepers’ who control the access to it… you gotta be their friend… just in case nobody ever told you that before!”
“One other thing… in all of life, with privilege comes responsibility! If you don’t want to take the responsibility… you can’t have the privileges… just in case nobody ever told you that before.”
“Have a great life remembering… what could’ve been. See yah!”


Contact Mike Neff

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