Wounded warriors find Kurt Busch's 'sweet' side
By PAUL WOODY | The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch | Published: September 12, 2013
Joe Grabianowski is a wounded warrior, a young man who has made a tremendous sacrifice for his country.
On May 29, 2012, Grabianowski, a sergeant in the Army, was on patrol in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan. He stepped on an improvised explosive device and the result was catastrophic.
He lost both legs. He is a bilateral amputee to his pelvis. He is at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., undergoing recovery and rehabilitation.
“We get a lot of visitors,” Grabianowski said. “Celebrities. Icons. They come by and meet with veterans and leave a personal card or business card, say good to meet you and hopefully we’ll get to meet again sometime soon.
“And we never see them again.”
One day, Kurt Busch and Patricia Driscoll visited Grabianowski, 26, from Albuquerque, N.M.
“At first I’m thinking it’s just another celebrity coming by and they’d leave a card,” Grabianowski said. “They didn’t leave a card. Kurt signed a poster for me and my dad, and they left.
“What was really sweet was that they came back. And they kept on visiting me, and we became friends. They even came for my birthday and celebrated with me. That was really sweet. I’d come out of ICU. I felt a little vulnerable. I’d been through a traumatic event.”
Busch, 35, has been called many things during his career as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. “Sweet” never has been among them, until now.
“He’s definitely my friend,” Grabianowski said. “If there was something I needed to attend to for him, I’d do it. He’d do the same for me.
“And there are other wounded veterans around here who would say the same thing. That’s what’s special about Kurt and Patricia. They do things to help wounded veterans. They give us their full support.”
Driscoll’s vocation is as chief executive officer of Frontline Defense Systems, a defense contractor. Her passion is her work with the Armed Forces Foundation, which offers assistance to active duty and retired military personnel, National Guard, military reserve members and military families.
The AFF offers financial assistance, therapeutic recreational and outreach programs, hospital visits and dinners, and works to educate the public on the hidden wounds of war, especially post- traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Driscoll, 35, is president and executive director as well as a member of the board of directors of the AAF.
Busch is her boyfriend. He always supported the troops at racetracks. His relationship with Driscoll has taken his support to a higher level.
“Walter Reed is hallowed ground,” Busch said. “To sit beside the men and women there, to go to the rehab room with them, to listen to their stories, to feel their struggles, to give them a sense of respect and to be able to try to help them through their tough times really puts into perspective what it takes to sacrifice for our country.”
The Busch that wounded warriors see and talk to on the phone isn’t the Busch that many saw for several years at NASCAR venues. A kind way of describing Busch’s behavior would be passionate.
And he sometimes spewed his passion toward his crew, other drivers and the media. In 2011, Busch had three notable meltdowns with media members that, combined with his temperament toward his team, led to the loss of a prime ride with Roger Penske Racing.
Busch apologized privately and publicly to the trio of media members.
And he set out to rehabilitate his image with team owners and prove he deserved another chance with a major team.
Busch has more than done that. Along with the superb effort of the Furniture Row Racing team, a one-car operation, Busch put the No. 78 Chevrolet into the 12-car field in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
One-car teams are at a distinct disadvantage in Sprint Cup racing. Multiple-car teams have a deeper well of information to share. And teams with two, three or four cars, usually have more financial wherewithal.
Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser has spared no expense to have a successful team. And the team has an alliance with Richard Childress Racing that helps with motors and mechanical issues.
“We have some muscle left,” Busch said. “I think we can make a run through this Chase.”
Success, however, has come with a cost to Furniture Row, and it has nothing to do with money spent by Visser.
Busch has done so well that he again was a hot commodity for other teams. He recently agreed to drive the fourth car in the Stewart-Haas garage next season.
None of that is likely to change his commitment to the Armed Forces Foundation and Wounded Warriors.
“It’s been an awesome evolution to watch,” Driscoll said. “He was visiting troops before he met me. But he has stepped it up a lot more since we’ve been together.
“It’s cool for me to see troops who are having a tough time and here’s this famous guy, someone they watch on TV, walk in wearing jeans and a T-shirt and talk to them like a normal person. A lot of people walk in, pose for some pictures, sign some autographs and get the heck out of there. Kurt likes to spend time with people. He wants to know what’s going on, how he can help.”
A startling statistic Driscoll quotes is that one veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes. She wants people to know that statistic and to know they can help, sometimes by doing nothing more than being good neighbors.
She has asked Busch to be more, and he has accepted the challenge.
One issue facing veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse is timing. Rooms in hospitals and treatment centers aren’t always immediately available.
“That’s where Kurt has been a massive asset,” Driscoll said. “He will call some of these guys and encourage them to hang on until a bed is available at a treatment facility. He’s been awesome.”
Busch said, “It can be a difficult situation. It’s not easy. What helps is the unique struggles I’ve been through. I can’t equate them to someone putting his or her life on the line, not being able to pay the bills and family issues.
“But my brand on the racetrack has taken some lumps, and I tell them it’s not the end of the world. I tell them the perception might not be the reality or the truth and they don’t have to do this alone.”
Busch is back, and on his way back he found a way to help people suffering greater problems.
That’s admirable. Some might even call it sweet.