Pink window nets for NASCAR: Inside Kurt Busch’s pitch to use them at Charlotte race

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Stephanie Pell stopped for a moment in front of a freshly painted pit wall at Charlotte Motor Speedway. As the pink paint dried in the sun, Pell’s eyes watered thinking about the message she wanted to share with those battling breast cancer.

“You just take it one day at a time,” Pell said. “And I’ve always told my kids: Don’t give up.”

Pell’s next line, however, didn’t reference her own journey as a breast cancer survivor. Instead, she spoke about her 16-year-old son, Mason Bradley, who wrote a letter to NASCAR Cup driver Kurt Busch in 2019 that has made an industry-wide impact.

Bradley’s letter suggested that Busch race with pink window netting in his No. 1 Chevrolet car to draw awareness to the fight against breast cancer and recognize survivors like his mother. Busch announced Tuesday that Bradley’s suggestion would become reality. Not only will Busch’s car use the netting, but all Cup cars will run hot pink window netting for the playoff race at the Charlotte Roval on Oct. 10.

“It was his love for the Monster car and for me as his favorite driver, I went to work,” Busch said. “I asked NASCAR about it, I asked the track, then we had to get the window nets certified.”

“It’s been a process, but I’ve been having so much fun going through it,” Busch continued. “I felt a love from the family and everybody that’s in the breast cancer world.”

As part of Busch’s desire to do his part to support breast cancer research, drivers will sign the window nets to be auctioned off through the NASCAR Foundation with proceeds benefiting research and treatment organizations.

NASCAR Xfinity driver Daniel Hemric joined Busch in supporting the cause Tuesday. The drivers participated in the annual Paint Pit Wall Pink event at Charlotte Motor Speedway along with track president Greg Walter and dozens of individuals impacted by the disease.

Hemric shared that his mother is a breast cancer survivor, and that his wife’s cousin underwent a double mastectomy within the past year, and through aggressive treatment, is now cancer-free. The driver helped paint the wall with his wife, Kenzie Hemric, and their 17-month-old daughter, Rhen. He said that the event “hit home” for multiple reasons.

“It’s one thing to have experiences, but then to have a little girl of your own, you never know what she’s going to be faced with in life,” Hemric said. “ ... If she can be a part of this not only now, but down the road, hopefully (she’ll) take the steps necessary for early prevention down the road if that’s the case. No better time than now to start.”

Daniel Hemric, left, holds his daughter, Rhen, while she paints during the Paint Pit Wall Pink event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.
Daniel Hemric, left, holds his daughter, Rhen, while she paints during the Paint Pit Wall Pink event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.

Hemric is a full-time driver for Joe Gibbs Racing who recently announced a deal to drive for Kaulig Racing next season. He helped unveil the pink car that will pace the field ahead of the Drive for the Cure 250 Xfinity race at Charlotte, and presented a race flag to breast cancer survivor Jennifer Grady, who spoke to the group about the importance of early detection and regular screenings.

Hemric also credited Busch for the legwork that went into receiving approval from NASCAR and Cup teams to run the pink window netting for the initiative called “Window of Hope.” Hemric texted his crew chief after the announcement to ask if the netting could be used in their team’s car as well.

Busch said that the approval process for the pink netting included him flying to Daytona Beach, Fla., to pitch the idea to NASCAR CEO Jim France and NASCAR senior advisor Mike Helton. Once Busch received approval, he said that he worked with Speedway Motorsports president Marcus Smith while awaiting certification from NASCAR’s safety team. Then, the request was sent to teams.

“Every crew chief is always worried about weight and I know this window net is a little bit heavier (due to the dye) and there’s an aerodynamic advantage and disadvantage to window nets,” Busch said. “I figured here at the Roval, we’re road-course racing, we should all try to jump in the spirit together, so I tried to find the easiest path.”

Busch, an industry veteran competing for Chip Ganassi Racing, will transition to 23XI Racing next season. He earned his 750th career Cup start last weekend at Las Vegas and said that the industry rallied around the pink netting idea despite the process being stalled due to the pandemic. Busch said that his hope is to see the pink netting adopted by all series and all forms of motorsports for October races in the coming years.

“One small race at a time,” Busch said.

The latest announcement didn’t feel small to Bradley, however.

“It blows my mind that this is really happening,” he said.

Bradley included a hand-drawn picture of the No. 1 car in the letter he sent to Busch two years ago. He reiterated that the idea was inspired by his mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer after the birth of her daughter and became a survivor in 2010.

“I never really understood until I was older, but she was a single parent going through that and raising two kids,” Bradley said. “She’s my hero. I just wanted to give back to her and all the people who go through this.”

Pell, when thinking about the significance of her own journey that will lead to a display to promote breast cancer awareness in NASCAR, credited her son’s perseverance. Her message could apply to many.

“(Before) the one letter that was actually followed through with, there were a hundred more before that,” Pell said. “And if Mason’s taking anything away from this, it’s to never to give up, because just look what can happen.”

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