Author: Kelly Crandall
Date: May 19, 2017
As the son of a former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver and the nephew of a former Daytona 500 winner, one might think Harrison Burton is chasing the family legacy.
Those people would be wrong. To know the 16-year-old is to see he embraces being a Burton and the name doesn’t carry any added pressure. The focus is making sure his name, Harrison Burton, mean something in the racing world. That it’s not just politely included in a conversation about his father, Jeff Burton, or his uncle, Ward Burton.
“I’m my own person,” Burton told RACER during a luncheon for the newest NASCAR Next class, to which he was named to for the second year. “My dad and my uncle and my cousin [Jeb Burton] are all heavily involved in the sport, but at the end of the day, I have to be my own man and prove that I deserve to be here.
“I have to put the results out just like everyone else to prove that I deserve to have a shot at the top three series. Luckily, this year I’ve had great cars and have the opportunity to do that. I’m just looking forward to trying to win more races and prove that I belong.”
Many would say so far, so good. In addition to the continuing publicity Burton earns, he’s been putting together the results. After a frustrating 2016 season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in which he failed to finish twice, led just 13 laps and earned five top-10 finishes in 14 races, it’s been all gold this year. Burton has already won twice in five races and leads the point standings.
He’s also competing on a limited basis in the Camping World Truck Series for one of the sport’s most recognizable drivers and owners, Kyle Busch. Burton has six races on his schedule.
Like many second-generation drivers, Burton has heard he’s only in this position because of his family. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Jeff Burton never handed a silver spoon to Harrison or threw a bunch of money into racing for his son to have the best of everything or get a ride with the best teams.
“I had to work for everything that I got,” Burton said. “I had to prove I was ready and capable. If I wasn’t proving that I was talented enough to do it, I don’t think I would be at the level I am. All the funding for my racing comes from sponsors like DEX and Toyota and Morton Buildings; Hunt Brothers Pizza, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, all these great companies that rallied behind me and let me pursue my racing career.”
Jeff and Harrison spent many years building their program up together, starting with late models. Some of the partners that signed on have followed Burton through the ranks, such as DEX Imaging, who is in its sixth year sponsoring Burton.
“My dad got me my start, and he’s an integral part in helping sell sponsorship, but 95 percent of my racing career is funded completely,” Burton said. “And it’s something I’ve had to go and hold meetings with sponsors and had to pitch ideas and pitch deals, and it’s something that’s taught me a lot about the industry and myself.”
Since running his final NASCAR race in 2014, Jeff Burton has been able to be right alongside Harrison. It wasn’t always like that as he was competing across the country, earning 48 wins between the Xfinity and Cup Series. Now having dad to share in his career is a special time for Harrison.
“He was still racing when I started, and it was me and my mom (Kim Burton) traveling around, and going racing, and now I definitely will never take for granted having my dad around because a lot of my childhood, he wasn’t there,” Burton said. “You always hear guys say family first, but as demanding as the Cup Series is, you almost have to put it like 50-50. You’re always going to value your family more than racing, but you’re gone so much it’s hard.
“Your whole family has to make sacrifices and let you do what you love. Him being gone a lot when I was a kid opened my eyes now that he’s back and we get to spend a lot of time together. I’ll never take for granted, and I think it netted out to be positive over the years.”
It would be an injustice not to mention Harrison’s mother Kim since she has played as significant a role as any in his career. As both a wife and a mother, Kim has also made her life about racing. Harrison chuckles when he says Kim was probably ready to get out of the sport when Jeff retired, but instead, he’s dragged her back in.
Racing, after all, is what the Burtons know and love. Yet to Harrison, being a Burton goes far beyond the racetrack.
“Being a Burton is just like any other family,” he said. “Every day we eat dinner together, just like every other family would. My dad and I go ride bikes and throw a football like every other dad, and I think that’s something a lot of people don’t get. We’re just a normal family even though we’re heavily involved and share a passion for racing we still love to do other things and spend time with each other.
“We’re humans first before race car drivers. That’s what I value the most about being a Burton. We all look out for each other and love each other, and it’s really great to be a part of the family. Not because of the racing but because of who we are.”
To view this article as it appears on Racer.com, click here.