The notion of hero, or heroism, has evolved since its early definition. The word “hero” comes from the Greeks, who used the term to define a protector or defender. The word and notion has evolved through the centuries and, today, heroes come in all shapes and sizes. In Kentucky, for example, the majority of state-born heroes are of the four-legged variety. The state is synonymous with everything associated with thoroughbred horses, from breeding to racing. The Kentucky Derby- and Preakness Stakes-winning horse, I’ll Have Another, is the most recent horse-racing hero to top the long list of his Kentucky-born victors. His predecessors include the likes of Seattle Slew, A.P. Indy and Zenyatta.
Another kind of hero full of horsepower invades the Bluegrass State this weekend as the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series compete in the Quaker State 400 Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. It marks just the second time the Sprint Cup Series teams are competing at the 1.5-mile oval. The inaugural race in 2011 featured 12 different race leaders – one of which was driver Kurt Busch, who qualified third and led twice for a total of 41 laps, but wound up having to settle for a ninth-place finish. Busch will be looking for more of the same this weekend with the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet team.
At 1.5 miles in length, Kentucky falls into the intermediate track category. Intermediate tracks have been the strong suit of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing team during the 2012 NASCAR season. While the results may not show it, the performance has been there. Busch was running in the top-10 during events in Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City earlier this season only to have late-race problems relegate him to finishes outside the top-15. As an added incentive, the No. 51 Chevrolet team will be bringing the same chassis it used at Darlington in May, when Busch ran in the top-10 throughout the race.
While Busch & Company will be looking for success on the track, the team will also be honoring another brand of hero. Phoenix Racing is working with the Armed Forces Foundation to pay tribute to select members of our nation’s military. Beginning with this weekend’s race at Kentucky, the name of a former military member will be featured on the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. Riding with Busch this weekend will be 1st Lt. Ashley White Stumpf, a member of the Army Rangers who was killed Oct. 22, 2011, in Khandahar, Afghanistan, while serving with Special Operations Forces (SOF) as a member of a Cultural Support Team. Stumpf was one of a select group of female soldiers who volunteered to undergo intensive training to work with SOF and establish relationships with Afghan women and children while deployed.
Heroes can take any shape and, whether they have four legs, two legs or even four wheels, they can be inspiring and generate excitement. That excitement will be very electric when the 800-horsepower Sprint Cup Series cars of the NASCAR circuit take over horse country this Saturday night.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing:
How cool was it going to a new track last year?
“It was so cool going to a new track. It had been a while since the big series had visited a new track. I’ve had the opportunity now to go to a couple of new tracks for me with the Nationwide Series this year. But, for the Sprint Cup Series, when the big show goes to a new track, it’s very different and exciting.”
Talk about adapting to a new track last year.
“It was almost a challenge to see who was able to adapt to the track the quickest and the best. My little brother (Kyle) did a great job. He ran up front through the whole race. I ran second early in the race last year but I faded at the end because our car was dragging the racetrack due to the temperature change and the cooling down. So that’s one of the things I’ll look forward to conquering this year. The track changes a good bit from the 6 o’clock start to the 10 o’clock finish.”
Given how temperamental the track was last year, does that make it fairly comparable to a place like Charlotte?
“To give a Charles Barkley-type answer, it is but it isn’t. It is, in the way the track changes, but you’re running such soft springs there because the track is so flat. But then, the track is so rough at the same time and you have to work hard to find a balance between the soft springs versus the bumpiness on the track.”
What’s the most difficult thing about getting around Kentucky?
“The most difficult part, I think, is getting down through the bumps in turns one and two and carrying your speed through that section of the track. It’s all about momentum.”
Talk about the special dedication program to the armed forces the team will be doing starting this weekend.
“This was just a unique opportunity for us to work with the Armed Forces Foundation to pay tribute to members of our military who have made sacrifices fighting for our country. That sacrifice may or may not have taken place on the battlefield and people will see that as we do this program throughout the season. I’m just looking forward to being able to do something to recognize the men and women who defend our country.”
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Chicago Tribune.com, Fox Sports, MSN, Walter Football and Yardbarker
A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too