By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Harrison Burton. Burton is a 16-year-old NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver that drives the No. 51 DEX Imaging Toyota Tundra.
Burton competes full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro East Series in the No. 8 Dex Imaging Toyota Camry for MDM Motorsports where he currently leads the standings by 22 points over Todd Gilliland. He also competes part-time in the No. 28 Dex Imaging Toyota Camry in the ARCA Racing Series.
Seth Eggert: What made you follow in the footsteps of your father (Jeff Burton), uncle (Ward Burton), and cousin (Jeb Burton)?
Harrison Burton: I think just being around the sport from a young age I just grew a passion for it. It’s not something I did because of them being in it, but I think that the exposure from a very young age and falling in love with the sport just drew me into it.
SE: Where and when was your first race? What was the result?
HB: All I know is that I was five and that it was at a quarter midget track called NCQMA (North Carolina Quarter Midget Speedway). I don’t really know how I did.
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
HB: Definitely my Dad. My Dad is someone that I’ve looked up to ever since I was born, my Mom and Dad both. But on the racing side of things my Dad helps me a lot on and off the track with how to handle myself, and then just the ins and outs of the sport.
SE: What inspires you to compete?
HB: I think one of the biggest things that inspires me to compete is that whenever you go out and race, there is nothing that you want to do more than to go out and beat your peers. You can be friends off the racetrack and all of that stuff, but once you get on the racetrack it is basically every man for himself. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of something like that and that is something I really enjoy doing.
SE: Is there a specific track that you would like to win at?
HB: Any track would be really cool. I think a track like Dover would be cool to win at. I got to win at Bristol which was really awesome, but a bigger track on a bigger stage would be really, really cool to accomplish. But, every win means a ton to me, so even on half-miles, 3/8th-miles, and quarter-mile tracks, it’s still really cool to go out and win those. Honestly, you’ve just got to focus on what race is next.
SE: You earned your first career K&N Pro Series win at Bristol Motor Speedway in front of your family. What does that mean to you?
HB: That means a ton. Any time you can win a race in front of your family is always really special. It’s something that everyone, not only yourself, but everyone in your family has to sacrifice something for. It means a lot to be able to share those memories with them for sure.
SE: You also earned your first career ARCA Racing Series win at Toledo Speedway with a late-race pass. What did that win mean to you?
HB: That was a really cool win. It was something that was kind of a one-off deal. I got the opportunity to go up and run the ARCA Series at a really, really cool racetrack. I was able to go up there and had a great car and it was really fun in the race. It was something that hopefully we can have more of in the future.
SE: At South Boston, you competed in a double-header weekend, winning one of the 100-lap races. What does it mean to you to win at one of your family’s home tracks?
HB: That was probably one of my favorite wins. Like I said, to be able to share it with your entire family, we had a whole section on the backstretch that was basically filled with people that were either friends or family. That was probably one of the more special ones that you’ll ever get, to do it right in front of your whole family. It was awesome.
SE: Earlier this year your K&N Pro Series team unveiled a different style paint scheme. How do you feel about the new look that your running this season?
HB: I think it’s cool. First off, I think it looks good to have the sponsor on the door. It’s pretty cool, something different. Then also, it gives DEX Imaging or whoever is on the car at the time, it gets them out there. It created a lot of buzz. At the end of the day it was a lot of really good exposure for the people that help me in my career. And I think it looks good, so at the end of the day, it’s a win-win.
SE: Do you think this could or should be adopted in one of the Top 3 series as you move up?
HB: It’s hard to say. NASCAR fans are really hesitant, they like their tradition for sure. It’s kind of up to people above my pay grade, but I think it looks good and that it gets the sponsors out there so I don’t see why it shouldn’t be, but I don’t think it should be enforced either. The teams should have a little bit of freedom to do what they want and what their sponsors want. Maybe it’s something that can help generate more sponsors in the sport.
SE: Do you like how it stands out in comparison to your competition?
HB: Yes. It was cool when we raced it for the first weekend, but now you’ll see some other guys pull out a paint scheme similar to it with the sponsor on the door. But, I think that’s good. It’s good for the sport to have sponsors getting that recognition in a day and age where it’s hard to get sponsors committed to full seasons. It’s really important to get them out there.
SE: What was it like having your father as a team owner?
HB: That was when my Dad and I were running the late model team. That was pretty fun, something that I will always remember, just spending shop time with my Dad and a few other guys hanging out. It was a little bit more in your backyard, garage and just kind of at home. Now I live in Mooresville and run with MBM. It was a lot of fun while it lasted, but when I moved to MBM, KBM, it was the right time for sure.
SE: Is it intimidating to have the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Kyle Busch as your team owner?
HB: No, Kyle is very approachable. He’s always a text or a phone call away. I’ve never really found myself intimidated by him. I definitely respect him a great deal for what he’s done in the sport and what he’s done off the racetrack as well. A lot of people give Kyle a bad rap, but I enjoy spending time with him and that he’s an authentic person.
SE: How much do you lean on Kyle (Busch) and your teammates, Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson for advice?
HB: You have definitely got to lean on people with experience. Whether it’s my Dad, Kyle, Noah, or Christopher Bell. I think it would be dumb not to lean on those guys. Experience is really hard to beat in racing. Once you get laps and track time, it definitely helps a ton. To be able to relay information from those few people is very useful.
I’m definitely going to have to lean on Christopher for my next Truck race in Eldora. We’ll have to lean on him a little bit more than the rest for this one coming up.
SE: What are your expectations in the Truck Series this year?
HB: I have really high expectations. I expect to run well and to qualify well. I think we had a really good run going at Iowa. We were running fourth on the last lap and I made a mistake and got into a crash. It is just something that I will learn from.
I have really high expectations that we can run better than fourth and end up getting in the mix at the end of these races. It seems like if you’re in the right position at the end of the race anything can happen. You saw at Iowa that John Hunter (Nemechek) made a move all the way up by the fence, around the two leaders to get the lead. It’s stuff like that when it falls into place, but you have to be there first. So, I expect to be in contention, and that is my goal.
SE: Is there a chance that we may see your schedule this year increased with other opportunities in ARCA or in the West Series?
HB: I would love to hope so. It’s all based off funding. With how the sport is, it’s very expensive now a days, sponsorship really drives it all. If we can sponsorship to run those races, I’d certainly be glad to do it, but it’s very hard to find funding, so as of right now, we’re just going to stick with full-time K&N East, some Truck, and some Super Late Model stuff. Hopefully we can broaden that horizon in the future.
SE: How do you balance schoolwork with racing?
HB: That’s tough for sure. I’m enjoying the summer right now. It’s something that is really hard to balance. When you go racing, you always miss school it seems like, and then when you get back, you make up all of your schoolwork. And then as soon as you’re done, you’re going racing again. Then the cycle starts all over. It is definitely hard to balance, but I think it teaches me a lot about hard work and character that is going to be useful later in life.
SE: Are your teachers supportive? What about your classmates?
HB: Definitely. I am around and have surrounded myself with great people, including my teachers and classmates. I feel like they are very supportive of what I do and it’s really cool to be around a group of people that cares about you like that.
SE: Is it difficult bouncing from school, to the race shop, to the track and back and forth?
HB: Yeah, a typical day for me is pretty busy between going to school, and then finding time for the race shop, then working out, doing my homework, and preparing for, or going to the next race. All of that in one day can be pretty taxing, something that you have got to work for. The sport is very hard, it’s hard to make it. It’s something that you have to put 110 percent into. I’m just really grateful to have the opportunity to be able to be that busy.
SE: What does the future hold for you, where will you be one year from now?
HB: A year from now? It’s hard to say. The way the sport is, everything comes together so late. I have a few options that I can look at for what I want to do next year, but I can’t do full-time in any of the top three series, so that’s off the table because I’m too young. I’m just trying to piece together some stuff and hopefully it goes well and you’ll see me at the racetrack a lot next year.