Photo: Kurt Busch Takes a Page Out of Ricky Bobby's Book

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By Joe Munley

In the movie ‘Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby‘ when the main character – disgraced and embattled NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby  - cannot find a willing sponsor for his ride at Talladega, he jumps behind the wheel of a car with a cougar on the front.

Fans of the movie will understand the significance of the cougar on the hood. And the fact that the word ‘Me’ is featured prominently all over the car is a reminder that Ricky Bobby could only really count on himself as accentuated by this bit of dialogue between Ricky, his assistant Susan, and a member of his pit crew Glenn:

Susan: “Me” is you. Because it’s just you out there. We don’t have any corporate sponsors, we don’t have any fancy team owners. We have you. And this car, and this cougar, which symbolizes the fear that you have overcome. It’s all there for you.

Glenn: Ricky, this car is like your Excalibur, the mighty sword that Sir Lancelot used to bring together the Knights of the Round Table, until Lancelot betrayed him by laying with his queen… in the biblical sense.

Ricky Bobby: Okay, Glenn. Everything cool that Susan said… You wrecked it.

Cut to yesterday’s running of the Aaron’s 499 race at Talladega and you didn’t have to look far to find a real-life version of the disgraced & embattled Ricky Bobby in Kurt Busch.

Busch has suffered a fall from grace that is very similar to that of Ricky Bobby, and after leaving (being forced out of) the powerhouse Penske Racing team after last season he has spent the majority of this season with little or no sponsorship. And after years of being a contender, Busch and his No. 51 car were left in the lurch heading into the Aaron’s 499… So he simply showed up in this:

Look familiar? Fully aware of the fact that his own free-fall has been compared to the now iconic NASCAR caricature’s, Busch took full advantage of his under-funded reality to promote himself in a way fitting of the venue: Busch became Ricky Bobby at Talladega. From the pre-race interviews in which he aped Bobby’s ‘what should I do with my hands?’ cluelessness to the moment that he took over as race leader and the announcer gleefully announced, “Ricky Bobby takes the lead”, the gag never grew old.

It certainly helped that Busch was relevant throughout the race.

Closing in on the end of the race, it looked like Kurt Busch was going to make a serious run at the checkered flag until he spun out with about 7 laps to go. Even then, though, he stayed true to his new cinematic alter ego and headed off to Pit Road… in the wrong direction around the track.

After the wreck, Busch wound up finishing 20th but he made his mark on this race nonetheless. And in the world of sports where things are often taken way too seriously, it was refreshing to see life imitate art in such a pure and self-deprecating way.

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