Two for the Road
Meet the battling Busch brothers, sibling rivals who, when they aren't trying to one-up each other, are starring as two of the hottest drivers on the NASCAR circuit. In the explosively popular world of stock car racing--which now draws more TV viewers than the NBA or the NFL, some 40 percent percent of whom are women—the Busch boys are a Nielsen dream: young, handsome and fast. "They are part of a new breed," says Darryl Waltrip, former NASCAR driver and now a commentator for FOX Sports. "They know they are good and they don't try to hide it—that's part of who they are."
Quiet and reserved, Kurt, 26, can currently claim the title of best driver in the family. Ranked fourth among NASCAR drivers this season, the 2001 Rookie of the Year runner-up has won 11 races in his last three years on tour. Once brooding and temperamental—he had a well-known skirmish with driver Jimmy Spencer after they bumped cars in a 2002 race—Kurt underwent stress management training and is "more patient now," he says, "more understanding."
Playful and outgoing, Kyle, 19—ranked 19th on the circuit this season—hasn't won yet in his first season, but "he's definitely fast and he gets it done," says pal and fellow racer Jimmie Johnson. "He's grown up around racing and he handles the pressure well." He certainly showed that when he edged out his brother for the first time in Las Vegas. "Everyone always said they had talent, but we never believed it would be anything this big," says their mom, Gaye Busch, who never pulls for one son over the other. "Now," says dad Tom, "I just root for a 1-2 finish."
Seeing their boys compete is nothing new for Tom and Gaye, who raised their only children in Las Vegas. A former driver with more than 50 wins on amateur circuits, Tom taught his sons that grease is good. "Every hobby we had," he says, "involved gasoline." As soon as Kyle was old enough to tell a brake light from a night light "he got to do the same things Kurt did and do them at an earlier age," says Gaye. "Kurt got a remote control car, Kyle had to have one. I'd say, 'He's 12, you're 5.' And he'd say, So what?' " Kurt didn't mind his little brother nipping at his heels. In fact "it was fun to have him around to compete with," says Kurt, who used to call him Shrub (as in little Busch). "We never had any serious fights." Kyle confirms the rivalry never got too heated. "I always wanted to be better than him, but I always learned from him too," says Kyle. "I went after the same things he did, and it's been successful."
Both boys began racing in junior leagues at early ages (Kurt at 14, Kyle at 13), though Kurt wanted to be a pharmacist so he could learn about medications for his mother's rheumatoid arthritis. "Racing was my hobby," he says. "I thought I had to have a real job." Now that they're both hugely successful, they don't plan on going their separate ways. Last year the boys bought 126 rolling acres (Kurt paid for 97 of them, Kyle 29) in Mooresville for the entire family to live on—including their grandmother Joann, 76. As for the sibling rivalry, well, that's not going anywhere either. Both brothers have gorgeous girlfriends: Kurt dates Eva Bryan, a former banker he met on a blind date, while Kyle is seeing Erica Dewey, an aspiring TV producer he met on a racetrack (both women now work as assistants to the racers). The four like to double-date "or just hang out at each other's houses," says Dewey, who often finds herself embroiled in fierce games of Sorry.
Then there are the cars the brothers drive when they're not working. Recently Kurt bought a 2003 silver Porsche: "I'm having my midlife crisis," he explains. Naturally his bro has his eye on an even meaner machine: a Saleen S7. "It's the world's fastest production car—it goes up to 240 mph," says Kyle with a grin. Note to the folks in Mooresville: When the Busch boys are in town, look both ways.
Alex Tresniowski. Michaele Ballard in Mooresville