Kurt Busch’s Special 2022 Air Jordan 3 Toyota Camry Livery
When 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch joined 23XI Racing for the 2022 season, he was announced as the second driver to join the elite Jordan Brand family. Jordan Brand, if you’re not familiar, is the billion-dollar Nike-backed sneaker and apparel empire of basketball deity Michael Jordan. Ahead of this weekend’s Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, the company unveiled a special livery for Busch’s 2022 Toyota Camry race car: Say hello to the elephant-print design seen on the famous Air Jordan III , Jordan’s signature shoe originally released in 1988 and still coveted by sneakerheads today whenever the brand introduces a “retro” (reissue) version of the model to the market. Although the elephant model is 34 years old, it remains as fresh as ever, even on the mundane Camry.
Why the elephant print?
What makes this print so iconic in the first place? When it was first introduced, NBA superstar Jordan and Nike’s Air Jordan line were well established but still in their infancy. The Air Jordan I had looked a lot like a lot of other hoop shoes, and the Air Jordan II was a somewhat odd model most famous for being the one Jordan broke his foot in during his second season in the league. Sales for the line were strong thanks to Jordan’s incredible play, but the shoe designs themselves had yet to really get people to stand up and say, “Wow!” But 1988 changed all that when Nike introduced the Air Jordan III, which immediately got an image boost when Jordan wore it to win the NBA All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest at his Chicago Stadium home turf. There are few stick-and-ball sports fans who aren’t familiar with the photo of Jordan flying through the air from the free-throw line, white/cement gray Air Jordan IIIs on his feet as he took off towards winning the contest against Dominique Wilkins. Note: The Air Jordan III marked the first appearance of the now famous Jumpman logo and was the first Jordan shoe to feature Nike’s visible “Air” cushioning technology. Additionally, and unconventionally for the time, it was built in a mid-top form rather than the standard top-end models of the time.
It was also the first Air Jordan design by Tinker Hatfield, who would go on to design Air Jordans through the 15, as well as the 20, 23, Air Jordan 2010 and XXX. The former Nike architect belatedly replaced Air Jordan I designer Peter Moore and his Air Jordan II collaborator Bruce Kilgore, who had left the company. Moore, who joined Adidas, was trying to convince Jordan to ditch Nike and come on, and it might have worked if Hatfield hadn’t listened carefully to Jordan’s comments in previous conversations. During these discussions, Jordan mentioned that he wanted a soft leather shoe that would take to the court in no time (something he didn’t like about the Air Jordan II), as well as a lower cut and a bit of style.
That’s why the Air Jordan III would be a mid-range because it offered security but also allowed for extra comfort and flexibility so Jordan could move like a cat on the court and fly through the air like no other player. As for the elephant print? It gave Jordan the high-end, designer-wear look he craved, and he stood out like nothing else seen on the court or store shelves. As Hatfield has recalled on numerous occasions, a gruff Jordan – apparently about to leave Nike – arrived hours late to a meeting to see the shoe for the first time. He was disinterested at first, but as soon as Hatfield came clean, the player’s whole demeanor changed. The shoe was certainly unlike anything Nike or anyone else had ever produced; years later, Nike co-founder Phil Knight credited Hatfield and the Air Jordan III for keeping Jordan on board and saving the company. Since then, the elephant print has become a staple of the Jordan brand, which is why you see it featured on its most important products and athletes, such as Busch and his Toyota Camry Cup car.
Jordan Brand and Kurt Busch
You might think they’re an odd couple, but Busch is an avid basketball player and Jordan, a native of North Carolina, is a lifelong motorsports fan. He is known for favoring fast cars and motorcycles, and he owned an AMA Superbike team in 2004. But he always wanted a NASCAR team under his brand, and the dream finally came true with the 2021 formation of 23XI racing with the NASCAR driver and three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. When Busch lost his race after selling his Chip Ganassi Racing team to Trackhouse Racing, the perfect opportunity presented itself for the basketball legend to hire a NASCAR veteran and champion for his new racing operation. Busch joined number 45, an infamous number Jordan wore briefly for the Chicago Bulls when he first came out of retirement, in 1995. Busch also became the second NASCAR driver to wear the iconic Jumpman on his uniform, a dream for any basketball fan.
The Air Jordan Camry
While the original Air Jordan III only featured the cement-colored elephant print on its toe cap and heel, the Kurt Busch No. 45 Camry features it primarily on the sides, greenhouse, and nose. The hood is cement-colored with a red Jumpman logo, while the rest of the car is black, the signature color of Busch’s Monster Energy sponsorship. However, the black is done in a shape reminiscent of a sneaker, with the all-black roof and lower nose, front wheel arch and rocker panel in solid black. There are five red circles just below the front turn signal portion of the headlight sticker, intended to replicate the location of the lower “laces”. Just past the driver’s door window, black curves up and just above the rear quarter panel before dropping back to the rear bumper, much like a primary color on a basketball shoe.
The entire rear panel is black with a pair of red Jumpman logos, one below the driver’s side taillight decal and the other below the Toyota emblem and “Camry” decals. The only thing that really breaks the look of the shoe is the race number required on the sides of the car, as the side logos are only on the black part and there are only four of them: McDonalds, Monster Energy, 7-11 and Mark Jordan.
The Camry won’t be the only Jordan Brand-designed item seen on the track when Busch drives it to Kansas Motor Speedway: Team shoes and uniforms will all be special, too. It’s a unique look that will likely go down in NASCAR livery history, right there with the Peter Max-inspired design that Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove in 2000. However, it potentially won’t be as polarizing as racing on the rainbow theme. car that was the antithesis of “the man in black”. We just hope that if Busch manages to win, he looks into the camera and says the line that always makes sneaker aficionados smile: “It must be the shoes!”
Images courtesy of Nike. Additional images by Getty and MotorTrend Staff.