While attending the annual NASCAR weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in early-March, it wasn’t difficult to notice a pair of voids.
Both Busch boys were absent and while Kyle’s absence was the result of a crash at Daytona Motor Speedway, older brother Kurt was nowhere to be found because of accusations related to domestic violence.
A NASCAR Sprint Cup race without two members of the Busch family is rather strange anyway, but this particular situation was not only different, but downright mysterious and eerie at the same time.
When it was announced that Kurt was being accused of domestic violence the result of a supposed confrontation between he and his then girlfriend was announced, the story was top-rated in everything from race magazines to newspapers and network television news outlets.
Domestic violence is serious especially considering how many professional athletes have come under the radar for their behavior recently; and NASCAR reacted quickly by suspending Kurt Busch indefinitely two days before the Daytona 500.
Then, in what was a dramatic chain of events, Chevrolet announced it wanted nothing to do with Busch and pulled its sponsorship.
Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, was suddenly out of work.
Perplexed by the news, it struck me that Kurt was being punished for a crime that had yet to be proven. In fact, he had not been charged let alone convicted of a crime that is not only dangerous, but can also be career-ending at the same time.
While sitting in the press room of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I wondered how many others in the media felt the same way I did. I started speaking with members of the media and discovered that everyone also felt Busch had been convicted of the crime of domestic violence without even being charged.
What I discovered was that everyone agreed that NASCAR’s suspension for a crime that hadn’t been proven was rather odd. Call it knee-jerk or simply trying to protect its backside, NASCAR also found itself defending its own actions.
One person with close ties to NASCAR reacted by saying “We’re in a different world now. That all changed with the video of (NFL professional football player) Ray Rice" to which I responded by saying “Yes, that’s true, but Kurt Busch hasn’t been caught doing anything wrong and we damned sure haven’t seen him assaulting someone in a video.”
The Kurt Busch controversy somewhat reminded me of the days when I covered UNLV Basketball Coach Jerry Tarkanian in the late 1970s. Especially at the NCAA Final Four in 1977, both the UNLV basketball program and Tarkanian were hounded by everyone from media types to fans about their alleged violations of NCAA rules.
The NCAA was its own worst enemy in those days not only helping spread rumors but also deterring talented basketball players from signing with UNLV when the phrase “Runnin’ Rebels” was not only popular, but downright fascinating at the same time.
Disgusted with the loss of potentially college basketball superstars after winning the 1990 NCAA Final Four in a thunderous 30-point win over Duke, Tarkanian went to work on the legal side of the court. Certain that both he and UNLV were suffering huge financial losses because of the rumors and innuendos, Tarkanian launched his own attack by suing the NCAA.
Tarkanian was cagey and while it might have seemed that he would eventually forget the wrongdoings, nothing could have been further from the truth.
You see, maligning someone through whatever action can be cause for monetary losses – and Tarkanian finally beat the NCAA to the tune of almost $3 million.
And now that Kurt Busch has been cleared of any alleged wrongdoings, one must wonder how badly the native Las Vegan has been damaged monetarily. Especially with a case like domestic violence tied to a sport dominated by big-dollar sponsorships, the damage for such an accusation has got to be worth millions of dollars.
It goes without saying that those of us who know Kurt fully understand that he has made mistakes. We all cringed when on live television, he verbally ripped popular ESPN television reporter Jerry Punch who had asked a simple question.
Then, too, there were the rants from the driver’s seat directed to members of his race team that had us all scratching our heads wondering why.
But domestic violence is at its peak right now and being accused of such an act is damaging even when the accused is cleared. You can just picture the face of a marketing executive with a major sponsor studying the idea of backing someone accused of domestic violence.
I mean, those of us in journalism worry about silly typos; and this particular mistake has the potential to be damaging big-time whether you’re talking about a race sanctioning body, sponsor or even the media which spread the news.
To Kurt’s credit, he has presented himself very well not only during the investigation, but afterwards, too.
In fact, when asked by a reporter if he had any regrets about the alleged confrontation with his ex-girlfriend in his motorhome at Dover International Speedway, he coyly responded with “Yes, I wish I had changed the code on the lock on my motorhome door.”
Interestingly enough, the pendulum that swung against Busch in the past is now swinging in his favor as people realize that not every accusation is true.
Meanwhile, Busch returned to auto racing by recording a strong fifth place in the campingworld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway March 15; and more good news was headed his way.
On Thursday, the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame announced that Busch will be among the members of its next ceremonies June 19. Others named were former UNLV and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Glenn Carano, ex-heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson; golfer Joe Kelly; and UNLV Rodeo Team Coach Ric Griffith.
The inductees will be honored at the Orleans Arena; and you can bet that Busch will be overwhelmed with the response he will undoubtedly receive.