September 12, 2010
By Kim Roberson
There is something strangely ironic about the current bad boy of NASCAR wearing a cuddly kitten on his Pepto-pink fire suit.
The fact that Kyle Busch had no problem sporting kittens, baby seals, unicorns, and the words “I Love You” down the back of his uniform leg goes against almost every image NASCAR fans have had of the 25-year old all season. Cuddly is one of the last words many would use to describe the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing car.
The commercial is only 30-seconds long, and features a dead-pan Busch sitting in front of his pink race car asking “Who doesn’t like kittens, bunnies and little baby seals?” It was created for Toyota Racing’s “Sponsafy Your ride” promotion, which was meant to encourage fans to go create their own car design at Toyota Racing’s home page.
When Busch was given the script and uniform for the commercial, he didn’t hesitate. “I just said ‘All right, whatever, let’s do it’. It was a neat commercial and the way that it turned out was really fun."
There are several commercials promoting the "Sponsafy Your Ride" program involving the other Toyota racing drivers (“Who doesn’t love love?” asks Denny Hamlin in his ad. “I love love” is David Reutimann’s reply as he strolls past), however the ad featuring the sport’s bad boy wearing cuddly animals and pink seemed to take on a life of its own.
What was only supposed to be a commercial became reality, with the support of the No. 18’s normal sponsor, Z-line Designs. “I’ve got to thank Jim and Monica Sexton and everyone at Z-Line Designs. When they heard about this scheme, they were excited and knew it would be a lot of fun.”
Photo by Kim Roberson
Kyle Busch Poses With Kimmy and Her Mom
Once it was decided that the car would be raced in Richmond this weekend, and that Kyle was going to wear a pink fire suit, the driver decided he wasn’t going to go out on the track in pink alone.
“I was making fun of Kyle and he said he was going to fix me up and he said he was going to make sure I was going to get (a pink fire suit),” explained Crew Chief Jason Ratcliff. “I told him I was not getting a pink fire suit but, unfortunately, I’m getting (one). I’m going to try and stay up on the pit box and hide.”
The pink of Kyle’s uniform was much brighter than the original uniform -- more of a “Pepto-Bismol” colored pink, while Ratcliff wore a uniform that was more reminiscent of the one worn in the commercial.
The No. 18 crew did not wear pink uniforms, but all donned pink hats adorned with butterflies leading up to the race, and Kyle’s fiancée, Samantha, had her own “kittens, bunnies and baby seals” t-shirt. Fans could be seen sporting “Real men wear pink” t-shirts and shirts promoting the special design. Crew members from other teams stopped to take pictures of the car as it sat in line after qualifying was over.
The little girl who told her father “I love you” and then instructed him to “Write it there on the spoiler” was on hand with her mother, and joined Kyle during driver introductions and on pit road pre-race. People came over and asked for her autograph, and to have photos taken with her. During the race, she sat on top of the No. 18 pit box and watched the race excitedly, cheering on “her” car.
And who knows how many new fans were introduced to the sport as a result of the pink fuzziness of the No 18. My sister, who is a fan in passing, decided to watch the race after I sent her a picture of the car. “BEST CAR EVER! I shall make nachos and watch Puppies, Kittens, and Baby Seals.” She then told a friend about the car and pink suit, and the friend, who was not a NASCAR fan, joked “I bet it's good for the environment because it runs on clean burning unicorn urine doesn't it?”
Photo by Kim Roberson
The Kittens, Bunnies and Baby Seals Car
Many of Kyle’s fellow drivers stated Friday they had no intention of being beaten by a pink car covered in baby animals, but Ratcliff stated they planned to win with the car. “I told somebody last week that if we’re going to race a pink car, we better run well because you can’t show up with a pink car and run badly. If you do, it’s like a double whammy."
Luckily for them, although not so fortunately for Kyle, a late race issue that had part of the gas can lodging itself in the fuel filler and then separating from the gas can as Kyle drove off from the last pit stop of the evening led to the No. 18 -- and all of the kittens, bunnies, baby seals, ponies and unicorns along with it -- serving a
pass-through penalty. In the end, the pink car and its fuzzy passengers finished 11th.
After the race, I asked the top four finishers how happy they were to not have finished behind the pink car.
“Nobody hit the baby seal, right?” asked third place finisher Trevor Bayne. He turned to Brad Keselowski, who was sitting next to him and asked “Brad, you left it alone?”
“I didn’t hit it,” replied the second place finisher.
“OK, good. That’s what I was worried about. I mean, I didn’t want to move him and kill the seal or anything like that,” smiled Bayne.
“Kyle looked so good in pink. It was so good to see him smile in the pink suit,” laughed race winner Kevin Harvick. “If I was him, I’d have had the little girl (Kimmy) with me all weekend to make sure everyone knew why I was wearing that suit."
But with humor aside, Harvick admitted that the whole idea served its purpose extremely well. “That was a cool promotion, and to see it fulfilled on the race track is something that is good for our sport, because when you see promotions that start and finish, I think it was all in good fun to see and Kyle was a good sport about it, so that was all cool to see it carried through to the race track.”
Kyle might not be a fan favorite, and might have a reputation for being a hard-nosed, arrogant race car driver. But on Friday, he showed that he has a sense of humor, and can take the ribbing of teammates and competitors alike.