Cruisin’ with NASCAR star Kurt Busch - and his ’61 ’Vette

Henry Payne

Royal Oak – — Thousands of motorheads take a day — or five — off during Dream Cruise week to show off their cars and soak up the atmosphere. Included in their ranks this year: Kurt Busch, NASCAR star, 2004 Nextel Cup champion — and muscle car collector.

On his way to Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the Michigan 400, Busch spent Thursday cruising in his 1961 Chevrolet Corvette and 2014 Chevy SS (that he’s modified with a supercharger, natch) from Chevrolet’s 13 Mile and Woodward Performance Vehicles tent.

This Sunday, Busch will try to follow up his third-place finish at last week’s Watkins Glen Raceway with a win on Michigan’s 200 mph-plus oval. But this day, he was content to lap Woodard at 45 mph with his fellow cruisers

“I’ve been here twice before, but this is the first time I brought my own car,” says Busch, 36, wearing a Chevrolet T-shirt and jeans as we cruised between Royal Oak and Birmingham. “When I saw this car 18 months ago, it just spoke to me. Maybe the champagne paint and interior reminded me of the color of my wife’s hair, I don’t know.”

True to the spirit of the Dream Cruise, Busch cruised unnoticed behind wraparound sunglasses. Here, the car is the star and his fully-restored Corvette is completely original — right down to no seatbelts and a 283-cubic inch motor that his father rebuilt.

Busch has spent a lifetime around classic cars. “I grew up going to hot rod shows with my father,” says Busch, who says that his dad, Tom, is a collector too with a particular fondness for 1932 Fords: “He has four of them.”

“What I love about classic cars is the bond that they form between family,” continues Busch, checking the temperature gauge on the ’61 to make sure all is in order. “Dad introduced me to cars as a teenager, and now I’ve been able to give back to him. I’ve been fortunate in my motor racing, so I recently told my dad I’d buy him any car at the Los Angeles Roadster Show. Of course, he brought back another ’32 Ford.”

That bond extends to Busch’s family — wife Patricia and 9-year-old stepson Houston — who accompanied him to Woodward. And while Dad tools around in a 53-year old ’Vette, Mom keeps a more modern steed in her garage stall: A 2014 Corvette C7 convertible.

Busch’s first car was a 1964 VW Bug — he nicknamed it “Herbette” after the popular “Herbie the Love Bug” movies. If he had kept the Beetle, it would qualify as a cruise classic today. But he didn’t get the collector bug until he received a sleek 2005 Ford GT for winning his 2004 Cup title.

“Now I’m looking to collect my favorite cars from each decade,” he says, beginning with the Corvette and a 427-cid 1965 Cobra that he’s restoring. As he drove Woodward, Busch also admitted a weakness for ’69 Camaros.

Recognized as one of NASCAR’s most talented drivers with an uncanny ability to race at the top on both oval and road courses like Watkins Glen, Busch has won one NASCAR race this year and 25 in his career. His passion for speed extends to his daily driver, the supercharged SS — though it has little in common with the 850-horsepower monster he’ll be piloting around Michigan’s high-banked oval this weekend.

“It’s got air bags and headlights,” he jokes.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.