Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 | 1:01 p.m.
The upcoming TV special on NASCAR driver Kurt Busch depicts him as a champion, a competitor, a troublemaker and an outlaw. Producers of the Speed TV special airing Nov. 15 have even titled the hourlong show about one of the sports biggest lightning rods “Kurt Busch: The Outlaw.”
Kurt himself says: “It will give viewers an honest and accurate portrayal. The behind-the-scenes footage will also entertain and educate the audience about my private and public sides.”
The Las Vegas native has had roller-coaster triumphs and tragedies since his Sprint Cup journey began in 2001. In 2002, he had four major victories and earned more than $6 million. By 2006, he was at the top of his game and an heir apparent to the Hall of Fame.
But he also was named one of the year’s “Most Hated Athletes” and the focal point of attention as a bad boy. He admits that below the surface, there was an unexplained and uncontrollable rage with numerous tirades against his crews and eruptions toward his competitors.
It wound up in the 2011 explosions with a contentious on-track battle with rival Jimmie Johnson, and then he had to be separated from NASCAR reporters he attacked, including Las Vegas’ Jamie Little. Sponsors Penske and Miller Lite terminated relationships with him.
“The last 9 months were a whirlwind like when you open the plug on the bottom of the tub and the water starts to go through. That’s somewhat of what happened to my career,” he says on camera. “I flushed away some good opportunities, and it was a very gloomy point for me. At 26, I thought I knew everything. Now I’m 33; I realize I knew nothing.”
Kurt was fined $50,000 and placed on probation by NASCAR when he had a run-in on track with driver Ryan Newman, who commented: “It’s easy to say Kurt blew a fuse again. I’m not sure why he did it and tried to run over our guys and NASCAR officials. I think the chemical imbalance speaks for itself.”
That probation turned into a suspension. The documentary says, ”At this point, many believed he had indeed hit rock bottom.” Kurt looks at the camera and comments: “Was I a zero when everything was breaking apart and the shell-shock moment happened? Absolutely.”
Redemption eventually came, and that’s the story that executive producer Jennifer Williams hopes she’s told. “There’s a unique, compelling side to Kurt and one that needs to be fully placed in context,” she said.
The Zero Point Zero production is one of several for the company, including Andrew Zimmern’s new “Border Check” for the Travel Channel and Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” It also produces Debi Mazar’s “Extra Virgin” for the Cooking Channel and a new CNN series with Anthony.
“I was struck by how truly humble and funny he was. I had a hard time imagining that this was the same guy who was the cause of so much trouble and so many headlines,” Jennifer continued. “There had to be more to him, and it made me want to dig deeper. When you do, you find a Kurt Busch who is incredibly complex and engaging.
“It’s a fresh perspective not only to his story, but also to the sport. All NASCAR drivers -- not just Kurt -- are human, and that often gets lost. They all screw up. It’s their ability -- or inability -- to redeem themselves that makes for an interesting story that everyone can understand.
“Whether you love him or hate him, you’ll want to watch because he’s just that compelling.” “Kurt Busch: The Outlaw” airs on Speed at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Thursday, Nov. 15.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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