Think about your driving ability at 15 years old. Now imagine 15-year-old you hurtling around a race track in a car going more than 100 miles per hour. Scary, huh?
That’s a standard weekend for Harrison Burton. He’s 15 — not even old enough to get his driver’s license — he lives in Huntersville, he’s a high school student at Cannon School, and he’s one of the top up-and-coming NASCAR drivers.
Harrison, son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton and nephew of former driver Ward Burton, earned a spot in the latest NASCAR Next class, a group of drivers identified as stock car racing’s rising stars.
— Harrison Burton (@HBurtonRacing) May 18, 2016
I met Harrison at a luncheon for the NASCAR Next drivers earlier this week and we talked for about 15 minutes on the balcony of Fahrenheit, possibly the most scenic interview I’ve done in Charlotte.
Here’s some of that conversation:
When did you start racing?
“I started racing when I was 4 years old. My dad, he got me a kind of race car called a quarter midget when I was 4 for Christmas Day. So that was the best Christmas present I ever got and racing ever since.”
Do you even remember this? Did you even realize what a race car was?
“I just remember being so so excited because I had been begging my dad to race since I was born pretty much. So when that day finally came I just remember being overwhelmed with joy and excitement.”
So your dad wasn’t pushing you into it?
“He kind of wanted to push me away. That’s why he kind of waited a little bit because he wanted me to be my own man, I guess you could say, and do my own thing and not just do racing because that’s what he did. But I just have such a great passion for the sport and I’ve grown up around it and seen what it’s all about and know what it takes to make it to the top level so I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything different.”
— Harrison Burton (@HBurtonRacing) May 17, 2016
You’ve been racing for 11 years but you can’t legally drive down the street. (He turns 16 Oct. 9.) Is that strange to you?
“Yeah, it is kind of weird. Like I’ll get off a race track going 145 miles an hour and have my parents drive me home.”
How do you balance school and racing? Because racing at the level you’re doing it can be a full-time thing.
“It’s probably one of the toughest things to do. A lot of kids are home schooled and that seems to work for them, but you know my parents believe that I need to learn from the social experience of high school. You learn so much about yourself and so much about how to deal with problems through high school … and I enjoy going to hang out with my friends at school because that’s the only time I see them anyway.”
What do your friends think about you being a driver?
“It was kind of weird (at first) … they acted a little different, but then it’s back normal. I’m just kind of a normal kid. … It’s kind of just like old news by now, actually, just something I’ve done since the beginning of my life.”
What do you say to people who think NASCAR is boring, just a bunch of people driving in circles?
“You know, that’s a tough question. … In one of his interviews I think (my dad) explained it the best way possible. An athlete is an athlete. … A power forward can’t do what a point guard can do … and a point guard can’t do what a power forward can do. So are we going to go out there and be super human freaks that can jump 30 feet in the air and dunk the ball? No. But can Kobe Bryant hop in a race car and do what we do week in and week out? No. I don’t think so.”
— Race Chaser Media (@RaceChaserMedia) April 30, 2016
Who do you look up to? (Other than drivers in your family, of course.)
“I guess, you know, Kyle Busch and his driving. His driving is just incredible. When you look at what the guy does it’s just crazy. … If I could have the skillset of any driver, I think it’d be Kyle. I’m not just saying that because he’s my truck owner.”
The little time you have away from racing and school and all that, what do you do?
“A lot of times I’ll just sit around my house, honestly, because I am not home a lot. So sometimes it’s nice to just lay in bed until 11 o’clock and just hang out. But if I’m going out doing something, it’s normally something with my buddies, or going out hunting and fishing or something, just to get outside and get your mind off of racing you know.”
(I found out after the interview that he also plays lacrosse, so there must not be a whole lot of sitting.)
What’s next for you?
“I get to race (in the Camping World Truck Series) at Martinsville with Kyle Busch Motorsports this October. So right after I turn 16 they’re going to throw me in a truck and say, ‘Go have fun.’ … (You have to be 16 to race in the truck series, a national NASCAR series.)
“A short-term goal is just to win races. Be a consistent race winner week in and week out and really just prove to people what I can do. Obviously every driver wants to make it to (Sprint) Cup and that’s kind of a stereotypical answer to give, but honestly just to be able to have the opportunity to go out and run in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, that would be my life’s work and my dream come true.”
Photo: Corey Inscoe