Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Kurt Busch displays 2nd skill

MEADOWS OF DAN -- Jason Wolf had never fired a gun in his life that wasn't attached to a video-game console. But as NASCAR driver Kurt Busch looked on Wednesday, the Danville Register & Bee sportswriter looked perfectly comfortable with the shotgun raised to his right shoulder.

"Pull!" Wolf said.

Pow! ... Pow! Two clay pigeons splattered in the distance.

"Pull!" ... Pow! ... Pow!

"Pull!" ... Pow! ... Pow!

After hitting five of six targets -- ridiculous accuracy for a novice -- Wolf walked away from the shooting station wearing a grin.

"All those years of 'Duck Hunt' finally paid off," Wolf said, referring to the iconic Nintendo game of yesteryear.

That must be it. I owned a Sega, dang it. That has to be why I hit only three of the 12 targets during our afternoon excursion with Busch at the luxurious Primland Resort.

Whatever the reason for my scattershooting, Roanoke Times outdoors editor Mark Taylor deemed the performance "awful" when I returned to the office.

You bet it was awful, especially when you consider the outstanding efforts of some of the other gathered media. John Buck of the Martinsville Bulletin drilled eight out of 12. WSLS television reporter Lindsey Henley nailed her first two shots. Like Wolf, neither had fired a gun before Wednesday.

I had, although not since high school. But I can take heart in the fact that not long ago, Busch was a lot like me. It was only a couple of years ago that he got into sport shooting, after moving to the East Coast and meeting the family of his wife, Eva, who is from the Tidewater area.

"I picked it up trying to be one of the boys," said Busch, who drilled well over half of his targets at four stations Wednesday. "Going through that orientation process of hanging with those guys, they're big into hunting. They're big into fishing and the outdoors. And I just love the outdoors."

Since then, sport shooting has become one of Busch's primary releases during and after the Sprint Cup season. Wednesday marked one of about a half-dozen times he's pulled the trigger at Primland, which is less than an hour from Martinsville Speedway. This time, the local and regional media were invited to tag along and take a few shots themselves.

We also got a tour of Primland, a 12,000-acre paradise with a six-week-old lodge that has to be one of the nicest facilities I've ever seen. They even have an observation tower with a telescope that, according to our tour guide, can spot things 27 million light years away. Cracked WROV radio personality Steve Cannon: "Can you see Dale Jr. win a race with that thing?"

Busch has won only once this year, but he's still in the championship hunt. He's sixth in the standings after four Chase races, 121 points behind Jimmie Johnson.

Some would say that's too far back considering the three-time defending champion is the leader, but Busch knows Johnson is fallible. After all, he's seen him on the sporting clays range before.

"From what I saw of him, he [hits] about 2 out of 100," Busch joked. "He's not that good. Maybe I can beat him in skeet shooting."

As for on the track?

"We've seen that he can be human," Busch said, "and finish sixth or seventh."

Not good news for those in pursuit. But Busch will take a shot at it, beginning with this weekend's race at Charlotte, followed by the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25.

Busch hopes to be crowned the champion at the end of the season. But either way, the next day, he's going hunting. In addition to his target-shooting exploits, Busch worked in a bear-hunting trip in Idaho between races in June.

"I don't know why I was hunting bear with a bow, but that was my objective," he said with a smile. "Race-car driving is dangerous, but I haven't died yet. I guess I've got to find something that's going to kill me."

Thankfully, none of us media types did.

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