News & Media


Caraviello: For Busch brothers, it all began in a Bullring

March 05, 2011, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

LAS VEGAS -- The walls are painted in alternating stripes of red and white, a high catchfence curves above the turns, and the sun-glinted skyscrapers of the Strip are visible in the distance. This is Las Vegas, after all, so even a short track has to be something of a showpiece, and this one is with a modern grandstand topped by a modern press box. And yet the place is still home to local racing, as evidenced by the yellow arrows that direct competitors to the tech shed -- a simple white tent next to a low-slung building made of concrete blocks.

For Kyle and Kurt Busch, who enter Sunday's Sprint Cup event at their hometown track ranked first and second respectively in the series point standings, this is where it all began. The Bullring, the three-eighths-of-a-mile oval located outside the second turn at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is where the brothers terrorized other locals in Legends cars, where they first emerged as iconoclasts, where for two memorable seasons they competed against one another, racing up through the field and dueling for the lead in their red race cars. Inevitably they outgrew the place, using it as a springboard for a rapid rise through NASCAR's national divisions. But while they were there, they put on a memorable show.

"That's where he started the whole bow thing. He liked sticking it up their backsides, Kyle did, from the beginning."

--CHRIS POWELL

"They were just awesome to watch race," remembered Las Vegas Motor Speedway president Chris Powell, whose facility also includes the Bullring as well as a drag strip. "They were so much fun to watch race."

The Busch brothers are seven years apart in age, so Kurt was beginning to branch out into NASCAR regional tours when Kyle started in Legends cars at the Bullring. But on weekends he wasn't off racing, Kurt competed on the Vegas short track, too. They raced against each other on and off for two years, 1998 and '99, in cars owned by their father Tom, a racer himself. Kyle and Kurt never competed directly against one another for a points championship at the Bullring -- that would have to wait until they both reached the Sprint Cup tour -- but their battles were intense nonetheless.

"Kyle was racing for a points championship, and Dad would say sometimes say, 'Hey, let Kyle win tonight.' I was like, 'No, he's my little brother. I'm supposed to beat him every time,'" Kurt recalled. "It was just a fun atmosphere to race each other, [to] race competitive, to be out there as brothers, because I did it with my dad for years. For [Kyle] to come up through the Legends and into some of my old late models, it feels like it opened some doors from him through the years."

Kurt was in his early 20s during his last days at the Bullring, while Kyle was in his mid-teens. Because of that age difference, Kurt estimates that he and Kyle competed against one another only about 24 times on the Vegas short track, with the older brother holding the upper hand in most of those battles. Yet their time at the Bullring was so notable that Kyle can still remember the exact date of his first victory there -- March 27, 1999, when Kurt was off at Colorado National Speedway competing in a regional touring event. A few weeks later featured the first race where Kyle could keep up with his older brother, but Kurt still won by a narrow margin. That would soon change.

"The next night I said, 'Forget it, I'm going out.' I went straight to the front, and there were no cautions throughout the race, and I walked the dog on that one," said Kyle, smiling at the memory. "[Kurt] recalls it a little differently."

Powell recalls being mesmerized. "I don't know if they were putting on a show, or if it was legit, but I'm telling you, if one led one lap, the other one led the next," he said. "And more often than not, Kurt got the best of him, and Kyle always said it was because [Kurt] had better stuff. But they were head and shoulders above everybody else in that category. When you could see those two guys get out front, and some of the moves that they put on -- because we'd invert the field and use all these gimmicks to make the racing more exciting, and they'd come up through there and it was just so much fun to watch."

The Bullring's Legends division at that time was an interesting mix, with hotshot up-and-comers like Kyle and Kurt banging fenders with middle-aged hobbyists. Brash and polarizing then as now, Powell remembers that the Busch brothers were more than capable of rubbing other racers the wrong way. That reached its peak in the early 2000s, after Kurt had broken through to the Cup level, and -- with his older brother at last out of the way -- Kyle began to win Legends races in bunches. And just like they do so often these days on the Sprint Cup tour, many in the crowd would howl.

"He'd get out of the car in Victory Lane, and that to me was the heyday of the Bullring," Powell said. "There was so much passion. It was kind of like [Dale] Earnhardt on a smaller scale. He'd get out of the car, and half of them would be cheering and half of them would be booing. That's where he started the whole bow thing. He liked sticking it up their backsides, Kyle did, from the beginning."

Kyle won 65 Legends races during his days at the Bullring, even though he didn't always have the best of equipment. Mom worked for the Clark County school district and dad ran a tool business, and all three men in the family were racers. That meant sometimes scrounging for old motorcycle engines because new Legends car engines were too expensive, that meant poking through salvage yards looking for pieces they could use as spare parts. And still, Kyle was so good that he tried to fudge his birth certificate to move up from Legends to modifieds, which mandated all drivers be at least 16 years old. The ruse failed, and he was sent back down to the lower division.

They had their share of scrapes. Powell remembers one night when Kyle raced clean to win a Legends race, and Kurt put a competitor into the wall during a late model event. Trying to send a message, Powell ordered Kurt off the track. "An hour and half later, I'm walking through the pits and Kurt comes up to me. But I thought it was Kyle," Powell said. "I said, 'Man, you ran a great race tonight, and I just hope you will appeal to your brother to race as clean as you do.' He goes, 'You think I'm Kyle, don't you?' They're seven years apart, but Kurt was a young-looking 21 back then. It was a little bit embarrassing."

Altercations between the brothers themselves were rare. Powell remembers occasions when they were miffed at one another -- "There were times they went home in different cars," he said -- but nothing physical. And while they went door-to-door, they certainly didn't take each other out, like when Kyle crashed Kurt years later in their famous run-in at the All-Star Race. Back then, there was just too much on the line. "When we raced Dad's cars," Kurt said, "we didn't wreck Dad's cars."

The Busch brothers also competed at another local facility, the since-closed Pahrump Valley Speedway, a dirt oval an hour outside of town where Kurt actually ran his first race. The Bullring, though, was where both took their first real steps toward racing stardom. The place is still sending drivers to NASCAR's national divisions -- Justin Johnson and Dusty Davis, both Las Vegas natives and Bullring graduates, made their debuts in the Camping World Truck Series last weekend at Phoenix. The winner of that race? Kyle Busch. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.