Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 5/26/12
CINCINNATI When the Cincinnati Reds finish their game Sunday afternoon, Ryan Ludwick hopes the team charter flight to Pittsburgh is at warp speed and he can check in to his hotel room quickly. He wants to grab his television remote and click it to Fox's telecast of NASCAR's Charlotte 600, hope he can catch a portion of it so he can root for Kurt Busch. Ludwick and Busch were classmates at Las Vegas Durango High School and they have stayed in touch, converting the Cincinnati Reds outfielder into a NASCAR fan. "Kurt drove a souped-up Volkswagen Bug in high school," said Ludwick. "The fastest car in town and it was a beat-up VW Bug. He'd take that thing out and drag race it and kick everybody's butt." Busch isn't a popular figure in the NASCAR ranks among fans and opposing drivers, mostly because of his aggressive spirit on the track, a mentality that he'd probably run his mother into a wall to win a race. "He is actually a really good guy," said Ludwick, laughing out loud as he said it. "He takes his job extremely seriously and that competitive nature he has gets him a little more fired up than the normal guy. "A lot of people get the wrong read on him because the public knows him only from the track, but he is a great guy, a really good guy," Ludwick added. Ludwick has become such a fan he has attended five NASCAR races in baseball's off-season and even spent some pit time with Busch. "I wasn't into NASCAR much when I was young, but once Kurt got to the big dog level I went to see my first race at Daytona, right before spring training, in 2005," he said. Ludwick was with the Cleveland Indians at the time, training in Winter Haven, Fla., just a few fast laps from Daytona. Kurt Busch finished second that year, following Jeff Gordon when Gordon overtook Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap 198. "I've seen him race in NASCAR from everywhere his luxury box, from the pits and last year I got some buddies together and he got us a spot in the infield at Texas Motor Speedway," said Ludwick. "We had a trailer on turn one and sat on top to watch. I've been in his pits, in his garage in his mobile home." But he hasn't seen the track from inside Busch's custom-built Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, which has to weave its way through the entire field Sunday, starting 42nd in the 43-car field. Asked if he'd rather face a 95 miles an hour fastball or try to drive a stock car 190 miles an hour, Ludwick said, "Face the fastball. I'm used to that. I can handle that. I have no desire to drive a car at 190." That doesn't mean Ludwick won't ever slip into the seat of Busch's race car. "He has asked me to do it and I told him I'd do it after I retire. He says it's a blast, but I'll wait." Ludwick, one of baseball's more personable fellows, laughs about people's perceptions about athletes. "And it is funny to me how NASCAR has that fan mentality that they have that one guy that they like and it seems as if you get somewhat of a bad reputation, well, good luck. Because you are a villain forever. Unfortunately, both him and his brother, Kyle, have that reputation. But, I'll tell you, both can drive a race car." For now Ludwick will stick to driving a baseball, which he did Friday night, nearly missing a three-run home run against the Colorado Rockies. The ball slammed against the top of the right field wall for a run-scoring double. Ludwick, splitting time in left field with Chris Heisey, also had a big game in Yankee Stadium last week. The Yankees' CC Sabathia was cruising with a 2-0 shutout in the seventh inning when Ludwick homered. Then, with the Reds leading 3-2 in the ninth, he banged a two-out two-run double in the ninth inning to push the score to 5-2, extra breathing room for closer Aroldis Chapman to finish it off.
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