There’s a quote in a new documentary from Amazon Prime Video’s Freevee platform that is one of the most absolute truisms in American sports: “Kyle Busch is the fabric of what NASCAR is built on.” Busch, the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, is a racing savant; more Bobby Fischer than Ricky Bobby. Yet he’s also, by the admission of many including himself, a bit of a loose cannon, a tad difficult, and to those who felt his wrath at times, a special word that starts with the letter “A.” His uber-competitive nature along with a humbling of sorts is profiled in a 90-minute documentary Rowdy, released earlier this month prior to the circuit’s preseason Clash at the Coliseum.
As NASCAR begins its 2023 season with the Daytona 500 this Sunday, Awful Announcing had a brief but informative chat with Derek Daugherty, the executive producer and a longtime confidant of Busch, about what Rowdy offers to race fans. Daugherty also shared thoughts on trying to get some of his rivals to talk and where the documentary lives in NASCAR’s ongoing evolution of storytelling away from the track.
Awful Announcing: For years, Kyle Busch has been labeled the bad boy of NASCAR, much of it because of confrontations during races and at times, full embracing of being the villain. It would be understandable if he chose not to reveal some parts about himself to the world because they’ve already decided who he was. Yet going into this project, did you expect Kyle to be as forthcoming as he was?
Derek Daugherty: I think that’s the biggest challenge we had with him coming into it was he was like, “well, I want to tell my story,” and I’m like, “well, we aren’t going to tell your story. But we’re going to tell a story about a kid. You had to overcome all of these challenges, you don’t come from a wealthy family like most of these racecar drivers do. You had to really build everything yourself, and then you had to kind of like figure it out yourself.”
AA: The Kyle Busch/Dale Earnhardt Jr. rivalry may have been the most interesting story to tell. Kyle didn’t exactly hold back in his belief that Dale Jr. didn’t earn his standing because he didn’t win at the same rate as his peers. Yet in Rowdy, Junior himself didn’t seem to take complete offense to that, but he also threw in a fair share of jabs in kind. What was the process behind getting him and some of his contemporaries on board?
Daugherty: You know, and the funny thing about Junior is if you met him probably 20 years ago, he was a shy, shy guy, you know, he wouldn’t. But he’s turned it around, he’s amazing. You know, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He does tell it how it is. He asked, “so Derek, what do you want me to do?” I’m like, “dude, I want you to be as honest as possible. I want you to tell me how it is, what your perceptions of things are, and I’m going to try to get it from the other racecar drivers as well.” So we did try to get Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski because those have been his big rivals over the years. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to do it, but Junior was one of the guys who stepped in and said “absolutely, this is a story that probably needs to be told as well.”
AA: What do you think Rowdy does for Kyle today? After such a lengthy and controversial career, is he conscious of his perception? Does the documentary serve as a mea culpa for who he used to be or perhaps an unapologetic tome of who he’s always been?
Daugherty: That second part. (Laughs.) The funny thing is that when I wrote the whole story out, that I wanted was him to look at a camera and say, “Hey, I’m just Kyle Busch, and I’m here to race and win and do a burnout.” But even he knows, “Hey, this is only the first half, I want to win. Derek, I still want to win three or four more championships. I know, I want to with Joe Gibbs racing, I probably threw away three championships.”
But he feels like he’s under a new leaf right now with Richard Childress Racing, so he’s excited to get out there. He’s very ultra-competitive as usual, he’ll say “I want to show everybody that I can win with any race team, any car out there, even if it’s a lawnmower, I’ll take it out there and race against you.”
AA: NASCAR has several racers, most notably Bubba Wallace, who are comfortable giving people a glimpse of life away from Pit Row, yet the circuit has a lot of competition for eyeballs in the reality/documentary genre. In the era where every sports league or organization is trying to find its own Drive to Survive, what does Rowdy say about NASCAR’s ability to tell stories about their racers away from the broadcast?
Daugherty: You know, I see NASCAR’s position in that they’re trying to tell a fair story for everybody, and I tried to do the same thing with his documentary. Everybody approved, whether you’re Hendrick Motorsports or JGR, who, even Kyle had to eventually approve every single bit of it. NASCAR has to walk on eggshells when it comes to storytelling like this, but they do have great stories. You’re gonna have some amazing things coming up here soon. There are legacy stories of people who’ve retired but have this aura like a Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon. And then you have these comeback stories like Jimmie Johnson.
I’d love to say that everybody has Kyle’s personality, right? Kyle is kind of like that type-A personality that’s always gonna have something to say. And then you have other drivers who just want to race. And so, fans want more content, they want to see what makes people tick and answer the question of “why would you be a fan of that person?”
I’m an insights guy, so I pulled out some data on who are Kyle’s fans. And I’d say the majority of the Kyle fans were moms. And when I asked that question, they were like, that could have been my son. This kid who’s troubled could be my son, and I want to help figure it out for him. That’s why I’m a fan of his, let’s do this.
That was in the beginning when Kyle was first signed with M&Ms Racing. They had all these demographics of people who see he’s a kid that gets in a little bit of trouble here and there, but they believe is a good kid. And Kyle is a good kid. Two things going for him is that he is a passionate racer and that he wants to be known as the best racecar driver ever.