DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There ain't nothing stock about a stock car. Particularly the one Kurt Busch is driving in the Nationwide Series this weekend at Daytona International Speedway -- a vehicle that just might have tires matched perfect and staggered special.
The 2004 champion of NASCAR's premier series will drop the hammer Friday night on a No. 1 car that will bear a very familiar paint scheme -- the green and yellow made famous by Tom Cruise in the 1990 film "Days of Thunder," complete with City Chevrolet sponsorship on the hood. With the blessing of Rick Hendrick, who owns the real-life Charlotte dealership, Busch gave Phoenix Racing a simple mandate -- build him a car, and he'd win Daytona.
"We all have our harebrained ideas, and you never know when you can go full-throttle with it. But it was my objective to have this when we were together last year, but the timing wasn't quite right. It really came down to getting Mr. H to jump on board, and he gave me that thumbs up when we were at his charity golf tournament together after the All-Star race this year," Busch said Thursday.
"...I was like, 'We've got to do this. Come on, let's do it.' He said, 'Not only will we do this, I'll make sure I give you guys the best piece under the hood I can get you.' Like that line out of the movie: 'Where did you get that motor? Well, we stole it.' So he was into it right away."
It was a natural tie-in for Phoenix Racing, which uses Hendrick Motorsports engines and won the Nationwide race at Daytona last summer with Busch behind the wheel. Although he now drives for Furniture Row Racing on the Sprint Cup Series, Busch maintains the relationships he built last year competing with Phoenix on NASCAR's premier circuit. Busch toyed with the idea of a "Days of Thunder" scheme last season at Talladega, a race for which the team didn't have sponsorship, but wound up using "Talladega Nights" look -- hard to forget that cougar on the hood -- instead.
For Daytona, the timing was right -- partly because the 2.5-mile track is such a focus in the film. Busch mentioned the idea to his girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, who is president and executive director of the Armed Forces Foundation, and they realized the paint scheme could also be used to raise awareness for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress syndrome, maladies suffered by a pair of injured drivers in the movie.
The final step was approval from Hendrick, for whom City Chevrolet is the flagship of his automotive empire. He served as a technical advisor to the film, and also was the inspiration for the team owner in the movie. The real City Chevrolet car from "Days of Thunder" typically resides in the Hendrick Motorsports museum, although it's currently on loan to the NASCAR Hall of Fame for its "Lights, Camera, NASCAR" exhibit. Hendrick not only gave James Finch's team the green light, he also read a few lines for a short reenactment of a scene from the film (see the video below) that also included Busch and crew chief Nick Harrison.
"Mr. H is the best," said Steve Barkdoll, general manager for Phoenix Racing. "He is the easiest, the funnest, he likes to think outside the box. He loves Kurt and he loves James. So no, I wasn't surprised at all that he'd jump on board."
It's also no surprise that the driver behind the wheel of the green and yellow car is Busch, who's never hidden his affinity for "Days of Thunder." The 24-time Sprint Cup race winner regularly quotes lines from the film over the radio during races, and his younger brother Kyle took his Camping World Truck Series nickname -- "Rowdy" -- from a rambunctious character in the film.
"I was at that impressionable age of 12 when it came out," Busch said. "Kyle watched the movie when he was 5. It hit us in that perfect time frame, because of my dad's racing and the hype of NASCAR. It had just come to Phoenix and Sonoma, and it was coming West Coast. And then the Hollywood side took over the movie, and me and my dad would look at each other and say, 'Really? That doesn't happen out on the track.' But NASCAR was going mainstream in the early 90s. I was 12 years old. It just hit me."
Barkdoll sees another parallel. "I think that Tim Richmond mode -- because that's what 'Days of Thunder' was based on, really -- I think they fit that mode," said the general manager, who added that a prospective sale of the race team to a new owner is still on track for mid-July. "Reckless abandon, overabundance of talent, ready to rock and roll. Whatever it takes."
This is no half-hearted effort -- true to the movie, there are dozens of ice-cream sandwiches on order for a mid-race snack, and crewmen on the No. 1 team this weekend are wearing meshed-backed City Chevrolet caps just like their counterparts in the film. "Everybody wants these hats," Busch said. "We only brought three boxes." Busch will also serve as an in-race reporter for ESPN's television coverage of the race.
"He's memorized all of Tom's lines, I'm sure," Barkdoll added.
Behind the frivolity, there's a serious message -- raising awareness of brain injuries suffered by returning service members. Ryan Lamke, a Marine corporal serving as an Armed Forces Foundation ambassador this weekend at Daytona, said the brain trauma suffered by characters in the film helps people relate to similar injuries inflicted upon returning service members. Lamke suffered brain and orthopedic injuries from grenade and improvised explosive device blasts during his service in Iraq.
"While they're not complete parallels, they are similar," Lamke said of the conditions suffered by the fictional characters, and service members in real life. "And those types of analogies help the American population understand the difficulties service members returning from combat with these injuries are facing today."
Added Busch: "There are so many of our wounded servicemen with invisible wounds. You get it in a Hollywood story, it's something everybody can relate to or digest. This is a tasteful way to blend in what the foundation is about, and just creating awareness, and then the Phoenix Racing guys just having fun."
That much is clear. And they're hoping their race weekend concludes just like the movie does, in Daytona's Victory Lane -- that is, if they don't go out under caution and hit the pace car first.
"There's an interest level and the excitement level throughout the garage, and people just saying thanks," Busch said. "Even like the Nationwide officials, they're excited there's something in their garage creating energy on a weekend like this."
See the video posted by AFFDC on YouTube below (Editor's note: Contains profanity):