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Sprint Cup Series


A driver, a dream: How Kyle Busch steered child toward NASCAR calling


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charles Browne really wanted to find Kyle Busch.


Standing on pit road at Dover International Speedway on a rainy October day, Browne finally found the 2015 champion and struck up a conversation.


But why was he looking for him?


"I always wanted to meet him again so I could thank him for everything he had done and how he impacted my life," Browne said later.


Browne's story became intertwined with Busch's about a decade ago. It began with a 4,000-mile move, a slew of questions ... and plenty of pizza.


CHASING THE DREAM


Browne's father aspired for his sons to have a good education. America was the answer.


On March 8, 2006 -- a date forever engrained in his mind -- Browne, his father and younger brother Dustin made the journey from Liberia to the United States.


New home, surroundings and people awaited Browne on the shores of America. At first, the adjustment was not easy. Browne faced a new culture with only a few family members for support. His dialect dripped with a thick Liberian accent. He was shy and afraid to speak in school.


Circumstances at home made the transition tougher. Six months after he arrived in the United States, social services removed Charles and Dustin from their home due to abuse. They were sent to Church of God Children's Home, a nonprofit, residential group home for abandoned, abused and orphaned children.

The Church of God Children's Home has been serving the needs of children for more than 70 years.

"I cried," Browne admitted. "I used to cry like every day because I was missing my mother, first of all. I didn't have (anybody) but my dad and my brother -- he was with me. It was like, I'm in this place with just my brother and all these other people I don't even know.

 

"I just wanted to be around family."

 

Luckily, "family" was just the design of the place Browne was about to call his temporary home.

FAMILY TIES


Located in Concord, North Carolina, the Church of God Children's Home is comprised of cottages that house boys, girls and teenage mothers and their babies. Established with a family model in mind, the children's cottages are run by house parents that live at the facility full time.


Julio and Kathy Ubiles are the couple in charge of the boys' house today. They are warm, friendly and evidently proud of all the children. School certificates of achievement hang on the wall, seasonal–themed decor garnishes the cottage entrance and sidewalk chalk art colors the pathway leading to the homes.


For these special couples who are house parents, time at Church of God Children's Home is more than a job.


"It's a little difficult when you've got six to eight children from different walks of life and different families," the home's director Mike Walker said. "You have some very special people that work in a cottage on a day-in, day-out basis. I honor them greatly because it's not easy at all."


Children in each cottage function like one unit. They live together, make and share meals with one another, attend the home's church together and interact with the house parents' own children, who also live there.


They are family.


During Browne's stay at the home, he became close with his house mother's daughter, Courtney Kiger, whom he described as "like a big sister."


When he left to enter the foster care system after about a year in the children's home the goodbye was difficult.


"I used to cry when I was leaving the children's home," Browne said. " … (Kiger) used to tell me everything was going to be OK one day, God was going to bless me and everything like that. … She and I would cry an hour together."


Browne's life was a whirlwind of new: New surroundings, new guardians and new circumstances.


But one new face in particular -- Kyle Busch -- would make more of an impact than he could have imagined shortly after Browne's arrival to the home.


NASCAR: LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT


Busch was hosting a party for the children of Church of God Children's Home shortly after Browne's arrival in 2006.

Kyle Busch was a hit during the pizza party. He's seen here with Dustin Browne, Charles' brother. | Photo courtesy of Charles Browne

Browne decided to attend -- for the pizza.

 

"I didn't know (anything) about NASCAR," Browne said. "I was young and I was like, 'Oh pizza party!' "

 

During the event Browne became more interested in learning about Busch and his crazy job of racing cars at 200 mph every weekend.

 

To this day, Busch remembers him.

"We were there having a pizza party and doing a Q&A and some stuff," Busch told NASCAR.com. "He was a little louder at the time and he was always coming up asking me questions and then kinda running off. And then he'd have another question, he'd come back up and ask me another question.


"He was very intrigued and very interested for sure and kind of some of the other children that were there were more off in la-la land and not caring a whole lot, but he certainly did and actually had a passion for me being there."


Busch's presence in the home made an immediate impression.


"He became my favorite driver," Browne said. "At that point, I thought I might as well just root for him. This guy took the time to come to this orphanage and have a pizza party with these kids he didn't even know."


After that, Browne was hooked. He began following NASCAR diligently, watching races on Sundays and even attending a few NASCAR races. Later in high school, his football teammates would poke fun at Browne's love for racing.


But he didn't care. This was something he truly loved.


MISFORTUNE, THEN OPPORTUNITY 


Angela Jones was shocked at all the racing memorabilia in Browne's possession.


A foster parent, she had cared for nearly 25 children in addition to her own two. But no one had quite a NASCAR collection like Browne. After his meeting and interaction with Busch at the pizza party, the driver and his team sent Browne a box of NASCAR items. ("I got his visor from the 2008 season," he said.)


"When they finally brought all the stuff, I'm looking like 'What in the world?' " Jones said. "And he was like 'Oh my God, I love NASCAR.' "

Charles Browne hopes to one day pit in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Jones and her husband took in Browne full time when he was about 13 years old. He had bounced around from a few foster homes after leaving the group home, and his social worker placed him at the Jones residence as a temporary stay.


Then a flight attendant, Jones wasn't present for Browne's first few days in her house. But when she returned, she discovered that Browne had found the family he had been pining for in America.


"When I came back, (Charles) told me he didn't want to leave and he wanted to stay," Jones said. "… He and my son … they bonded. They were like brothers. And we redid their room and set them up in the same room. They wanted to be roommates, college roommates is what they kept saying they were."

Browne remained with the family for eight years, and still calls Angela "mom" today. He was living with the Jones family when he tore his rotator cuff in high school, an injury that derailed plans he had crafted.

 

"At one moment I was mad because I really wanted to play college football," Browne said. "After that, (Jones) always encouraged me to find something that I really loved."

 

What he loved was NASCAR -- he just needed the right opportunity.

 

DREAM ON

 

Browne was working out at Gold's Gym in December 2015 when a man named Chuck Efaw approached him.

 

Efaw, the president of Xcalibur Pit School, saw Browne's athleticism and wanted to recruit him as a tire changer. He offered a visit to the school's campus in Kannapolis, North Carolina. After one visit, Browne "fell in love" and enrolled on Jan. 4, 2016.

 

That's where he remains, traveling to the race track every week and pitting for multiple teams in the XFINITY, Camping World Truck and ARCA series.  

 

It's a dream that once seemed far for a child in America's foster care system.

 

"When kids are in foster care when they're young, they can't see their future because they have to live so in the now: Am I going to have a place to sleep, am I going to eat, do I have shoes on my feet?" Jones said. "They're so in the now."

 


Kyle Busch
became a father in 2015, which furthered his drive to give back to children.

 

That Browne's dream is becoming reality is not a shock to those who know him best.

 

"I want to say I'm not surprised because he was dedicated and he had his mind set,” said Donna Bland, who served as Browne's case manager among other roles at the children's home. "But I am thrilled and blown away that he's done it.

 

"You can hear these kids, as long as I've been working in this field, they have these dreams. But sometimes there are hurdles that get in the way that put it off. But he was sincere about it and he followed through."

 

Busch, who became a father in 2015 to son Brexton, unknowingly helped turn Browne toward the path to NASCAR. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver continues to aid children through the Kyle Busch Foundation, a nonprofit that aims at bettering the lives of children, family and communities.

 

"(Children) are the future of our world," Busch said, "and so you want to try to give them the best opportunity to succeed and do what you can to help them and make them flourish."

 

Browne's next goal? To be a premier series pit crew member, he says. Every night before he goes to sleep, he does 450 pushups. He's dedicated, determined and driven.

 

Just like "Rowdy."

 

"I really look forward to being able to continue on to help him or do things that I can do to make sure that he is successful and continues to advance in our sport," Busch said of Browne. "He's done a lot of great things so far and working really hard and making a name for himself and trying to become a real professional pit crew member.

 

"You've got to have the ambition and the drive to first start off in order to make a name for yourself, and he's done that."

 

Browne credits Busch for planting the seed for his budding dream. Otherwise, he may have never picked up an air gun.

 

"If it wasn't for him, I probably would have just been working, working, working, working, trying to do something with my life," Browne said. "I'm grateful that he came that day."

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