Kurt Busch carried a cup of coffee to his back yard last Thursday, his eyes scanning the lake just beyond his putting green. He headed toward a pair of green stadium seats, numbered 107 and 108.
The previous weekend, Busch had finished third in NASCAR’S first race since the coronavirus shutdown. But when Busch returned to Darlington Raceway a few days later, he skidded to a 15th place finish. The next morning, it was time to decompress in his retired Wrigley Field seats.
“Those are my inspiration chairs,” Busch told NBC Sports Chicago.
Last week, NASCAR became one of the first American sports to return from the coronavirus pandemic hiatus. Busch has been posting race updates since then, but one Twitter video stood out: a shot of his Wrigley field seats.
“I felt compelled to show everybody a bit more of my daily life after a race,” Busch said, “and my Wrigley Field chairs have always been my place of relaxation.”
My retired Wrigley Field chairs. Sentimental thinking chairs. They help me focus after tough races. pic.twitter.com/JsFMuU8caJ— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) May 21, 2020
As for how the seats came to be in his back yard in the first place, the short version is, they were a gift from Busch’s friend Steve Farmer three years ago. But that explanation doesn’t do the whole story justice.
Busch grew up in Las Vegas, but he had family ties to the Chicago suburbs. When Busch got home from middle and high school, and his parents were still at work, he’d position himself in front of the television, flipping through his family’s limited channels.
“Soap opera,” he said, miming the routine. “Soap opera. Soap opera. Cubs game. Something else. And I’m like, well, these Cubs must be good. They’re on TV every day.”
Busch’s fandom blossomed thanks to that TV, but he was in his 20s when he experienced his first game at Wrigley Field. Busch and a friend circled a Brewers game in between races. Next step, picking their seats.
“I want a cheap ticket,” Busch said, “I want to work my way up. I know I’m going to be coming back to Wrigley many a time.”
They arrived early, in time for a half-priced beer, and headed to the bleachers.
“Just walking up those steps,” Busch said, “and just stopping right at the top and hearing the organ play, batting practice was going on, I melted. It was one of the most iconic feelings that I’ll always remember.”
Busch’s prediction came true; he did come back to Wrigley frequently. Eventually Farmer, an Illinois native, would join him on some of those trips, most memorably during the 2015 NLCS. Busch and Farmer first bonded through their Cubs fandom, and now they’ve been friends for over a decade.
“He had a mission too,” Farmer said. “He wanted to go see all the Major League Baseball stadiums, and he always tried to do it where he could get in when the Cubs were playing.”
The Cubs organization embraced Busch. He led the 7th inning stretch in 2011, doing his best Harry Caray impression as he sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” In 2017, Busch brought the Daytona 500 trophy to Spring Training, and the Cubs invited him to take part in batting practice.
Even after working his way up, both in seat location and connection to the organization, Busch held onto his first experience in the bleachers. Whenever he takes someone to their first Wrigley Field game, he instructs them to take it all in: the smells, the sounds, the feeling. Pause at the top of the stands, even if it means being the “obnoxious fan” who people have to maneuver around.
Busch sits somewhere different every time he goes to Wrigley, he said. The best seat? Five rows up, behind home plate, for Game 5 of the 2016 World Series.
“It was the most epic feeling ever,” Busch said. “Even if I was in section 400, I was just there. … I don’t know how I’m ever going to be able to top that.”
Busch also had the opportunity to see Game 7 in person. But instead, he stayed home with his soon-to-be wife. It was the middle of the week, and Busch was preparing for a race. But his jeweler was also scheduled to deliver the couple’s wedding bands that day.
“I felt 100 percent confident that the Cubs were going to win it without me there,” Busch said. “… and (with) that symbolic value of commitment, of letting the Cubs do their thing and showing love to my wife, that I did my part to bring home that Game 7 win.”
Later, Ashley Busch surprised her husband with a Cubs World Series ring.
Kurt and Ashley were married on Jan. 7, 2017, a date that would come to mind when Farmer asked Busch which Wrigley Field seats he'd be interested in.
“What do you get the guy that’s got everything?” Farmer said.
The answer came thanks to Wrigley Field renovations. The Cubs put retired seat sets up for sale in 2017, and season ticket holders had a chance to purchase them before the general public. Farmer had a friend who was a lifelong season ticket holder.
Busch put in some thought before choosing the perfect pair of seats: 107, for his wedding anniversary and 108 for 108 years between Cubs World Series victories.
“There’s a lot of energy within those chairs,” Busch said.
This Memorial Day Weekend, Busch channeled that energy into a strong start. After visiting his Wrigley chairs during the week, Busch won the pole position for the Coca-Cola 600, his first pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway.