Kurt Busch is most definitely a punk. At times, his younger brother Kyle is, too. Kasey Kahne? Casey Mears? Brian Vickers? All punks…how could they not be? They are all young men under the age of 30, and it’s just a fact of nature that this is what I think young men do at that age. Some are better than others at projecting the idea that they are mature beyond their years, attempting to show the cool demeanor of a veteran. It’s an image they have to project because it is what the sponsors and the fans expect from them…but underneath? They are still young men and thus, they still have some punk in them no matter how hard they try to bury it. Push any young man far enough, and the punk will come to the surface.
In the letters sections of other publications, I keep reading submission after submission from readers complaining about these drivers and their behavior. Some fans, admittedly mostly older ones, feel these drivers lack respect for their elders, respect for their teams, and even respect for themselves at times. They don’t like the image these drivers project. They worry about the future of NASCAR if it is to be left in the hands of these drivers.
Their fears are not without basis. But these fans are missing the big picture. This might be the new generation of NASCAR, and these drivers may be the ones who are left to carry on as the veterans depart, but Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, and all of the others will not be twenty-somethings forever. They will most likely mature and truly develop the temperament the fans seem to desire, but that’s only going to come with age.
Don’t believe me? Turn back the clock on some of NASCAR’s current veteran stars. Better yet, start with the reigning champion. No one will argue that Tony Stewart spent the early part of his NASCAR career being the biggest punk out there. He has always had a fun and caring side to his nature, but it was often lost behind the tantrums and the bad attitude. NASCAR’s reigning champion is now 34 years old, and what do you think of him now? He’s all grown up, and the mature side has started to come out. Few will argue that he’s a changed man, and his popularity has gone from NASCAR deadbeat to fan favorite nearly overnight.
Michael Waltrip once tried to punch out Lake Speed. Waltrip was a punk. He was only following in the footsteps of his older brother Darrell, who was the biggest loudmouth punk NASCAR had ever seen in his younger days. Kyle Petty, son of NASCAR’s version of royalty, had a few scraps in his day too. If memory serves me, one of those fights was with Michael Waltrip. Punk. Davey Allison had a temper that would’ve rivaled Tony Stewart. Punk.
Ask Richard Petty what he thought of Dale Earnhardt in his early years, and you know what he would probably tell you? Punk. It’s no secret that the veterans of that time didn’t think much of Earnhardt or his driving style when he first appeared. Ricky Rudd? Rusty Wallace? Punks, all of them. And yet, today, they are the respected veterans and the ones most fans point to as the example of what the younger drivers should aspire to be.
Most young men grow up eventually, and with that growing up comes the maturing of manners and attitude that Tony Stewart has undergone. It’s just going to take a little patience on the part of the fans. If you’re still not convinced, I know who you might be thinking of…Robby Gordon. Still a punk and older than Stewart. Well, I can account for that too. First thing you likely think of when you think about Robby is that he’s a punk. The second thing you might notice about him (or at least the second thing I think of anyway) is that for a guy in his mid 30’s, there still a lot of a little boy left in him. Gordon is one of those who surrounds himself with "toys" and approaches things with the enthusiasm of the young. What can I say, it just takes some men longer than others to grow up. For those of you unfamiliar with Paul Tracy, you’ll see when he arrives in NASCAR that the "Thrill from West Hill" approaches life in much the same way. I guarantee you the powers that be at NASCAR are well aware of this fact, and I can also guarantee you that as we speak, Mike Helton is already preparing a seat for Tracy in the big white trailer in anticipation of his imminent arrival in the NASCAR ranks.
Still don’t believe me? OK then, I have one more little exercise for you. Think back. Think back to when you were a twenty-something. This is for you women, too. I’m not sure if women are properly called punks, but that’s what we all were. See Danica Patrick. She’s a punk, too. Anyway, think carefully about yourself. Maybe you had excellent manners, and that’s great, but think deeper. While you were respecting your elders and minding your manners, think about what was going through your mind. Did you believe everything they say every single time they said it? Or did you turn the other cheek?
Now, the next time Kyle Busch or Brian Vickers flash that temper and act like a punk, remember that they are young men, and put yourself in their shoes. Fast forward twenty years, and I can just see myself writing this same article to explain the behavior of the sons of these same young drivers. Twenty years down the road, those sons will be the punks, and today’s young drivers will be the veterans we wish their sons would emulate.
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