When film producer Chance Wright called Kyle Busch to propose a documentary about the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, Busch immediately said no.
“Who’s gonna want to see this?” Busch recalled thinking.
It was a rare "human" moment for Busch, known equally for his racing talent and the hot-headedness and short temper that make him a lightning rod for controversy. Clips of Busch smashing guitars, cursing at race officials and making fake crying faces into the camera after wins circulate YouTube as much as videos of him driving onto Victory Lane.
Wright eventually persuaded Busch to go forward with the film, titled "Rowdy," which premiered to friends, family and media members on Thursday. It is set to hit theaters across the U.S. for one night only on June 29.
The premiere occurred three days before Busch is set to race at the Nashville Superspeedway, the site of his infamous guitar smash.
"Rowdy" centers on a side of Busch that has been largely absent from the public eye. While Busch’s antics are the center of many stories, the documentary recounts the lowest points of Busch’s life, as well as his climbs back to the top.
That is what made Busch, who is usually uncensored on camera, hesitate.
“We’re bringing up a lot of dirt and controversy in his career,” Wright said. “We’re exploring the bad times and the issues, and when you go back through some of those things and dig some of those skeletons out of the closet, it’s hard for anybody to go through that.”
But when Busch had the opportunity to sit in front of the camera and tell his side of the story, he opened up immediately. He once spoke for more than four hours, recounting intimate details of his life and career.
Between the 2004 death of Ricky Hendrick, a close friend and confidante who served as a leveling presence for the NASCAR star, and a nearly career-ending crash in 2015, which left him with a broken leg and foot, Busch fell into mental turmoil a few times during his career.
“It was shocking at that time – at 19 years old – to see just how fragile life is,” Busch said in the documentary of Hendrick’s death.
Eleven years later, Busch skidded off the track at Daytona International Speedway and hit the infield wall head-on while going more than 90 miles per hour.
“We see drivers hit walls at the time, but the way that he hit, the speed at which he hit, and the angle, you were just praying for the best at that point,” Fox Sports NASCAR reporter Jamie Little said in the documentary.
Doctors estimated that Busch would be out for a year. He was back driving 11 weeks after surgery.
And less than six months after that, Busch won his first NASCAR Cup Series title. To celebrate, he launched into his signature antics: donuts on Victory Lane with screeching tires and clouds of white smoke billowing behind him.
'The family business'
Busch’s on-track persona began forming before his racing days.
“He had little brother syndrome,” older brother Kurt said in the documentary.
Following his brother’s footsteps, Busch entered the racing scene with a reputation that wasn't necessarily of his own design. Kurt was known for picking fights, so when Kyle stepped out of his trailer for his first race as a 13-year-old, the crowd met him with a chorus of boos.
“Getting booed is the family business,” ESPN NASCAR reporter Marty Smith said in the documentary.
His competitors were most frequently on the receiving end of Busch’s short temper. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was Busch’s enemy for years, he said.
The first time the two raced, Busch approached Earnhardt's car and threatened “you’d better watch out,” as he passed by.
“I don’t remember that, but I believe it,” Busch told The Tennessean. “That sounds like something I would do, for sure.”
Busch won his most recent Cup Series championship in 2019. He has no plans to retire any time soon.
“The thing you want to be able to do is to be well-liked when you retire,” Busch famously said in 2016. “I know right now I’m not close to retiring, and I’m not close to being liked.”
So why make a documentary about a career that hasn’t ended?
“It’s not the end of his story, but it’s a chapter,” Wright said. “There’s more to come, and arguably another film to be made when he’s done.”
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Documentary film 'Rowdy' on NASCAR star Kyle Busch looks beyond antics