Date: Oct. 3, 2017
Author: Matt Weaver
Harrison Burton had a huge NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship lead over Todd Gilliland until he suddenly didn’t.
Burton held a 22-point advantage over Gilliland after winning the Busch North Throwback 100 at Thompson Speedway, but that’s when Gilliland went on a tear that propelled him back in contention.
Gilliland won three of the next four races and turned the tide. He left the penultimate race at New Jersey Motorsports Park with an eight-point lead. It wasn’t impossible for Burton to overcome, but with the duo finishing on the podium every week, it would take a dramatic series of events for Burton to win his first touring championship.
Burton never wavered.
He never got down on himself, never complained, never gave up. It was the same Harrison Burton that has become a winner in Super Late Models, ARCA and the K&N Pro Series East, and he’s earned it through lessons taught to him by his Cup Series winning father.
Enter Jeff Burton:
“We taught Harrison at an early age when he was racing quarter midgets that you can’t quit,” the elder Burton explained. “When he was having a bad race, when he was 5 years old, I said, ‘I promise you, you’re going to be able to outwill people.’
“And he bought into that. He believes it. He’s won some races now that had he laid down and quit, pouted over things that didn’t go well this year, he wouldn’t have been able to capitalize.”
But capitalize Burton did, when Gilliland crashed out early in the championship race at Dover. Not only did Burton finish in the requisite top five to retake the championship lead, he won the race and left with two trophies on Friday.
That kind of response to adversity mirrored a similar sense of resolve from the elder Burton, who snapped a 175-race winless streak at the Monster Mile in 2006. He hadn’t won since 2001 and returned to victory lane during the chase for the championship.
It was a case of leading by example when Jeff Burton talks about instilling a sense of mental toughness in his son.
“Listen, we take a lot of pride in never quittin’,” Burton said. “And when things are bad, that doesn’t mean they’re gonna get better. It doesn’t mean they’re gonna get worse, either. We just have to keep fighting. You just can’t lay down. You can’t quit. Self-doubt? All that’s paralyzing. You can’t let that in.”
And during his five-year full-bodied car career, Burton has never allowed negative vibes to take over. He’s always smiling, having fun and excited to tackle the next challenge. That will serve him well as he advances further into NASCAR national touring scene.
In fact, the Burtons never even talked about the challenge they faced until race day. They just treated Dover like another race they wanted to win, championship implications aside.
“We spoke for maybe two minutes about this race, and it didn’t happen until (Friday) and I told him, ‘you know what, you be you.’
“That’s what I’ve told him for years. You can’t let someone tell you how to drive, and as long as you’re you, and as long as you’re willing to learn what you’re not good at, you’ll be fine.
“He has the natural ability. He has the talent. It’s about gathering it all up and be willing to fail. You have to be willing to make mistakes to move forward as a person, to improve, and we tell him that.
“So, if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. It doesn’t have to work out. To me, you’re winning if you stay true to yourself.”
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