Trucker Jeb Burton Is Ready To ‘Do It Again’
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Twenty days have passed since Jeb Burton scored his first Camping World Truck Series victory at Texas Motor Speedway. Practically speaking, the celebration lasted less than 24 hours after 20-year-old Jeb had added his name to the Burton family’s NASCAR legacy.
“Everything’s calmed down. It was a really cool experience, but once we got back on the plane on, I think it was Saturday, it was kind of over for me,” said Jeb, referring to his victory in the 17th annual WinStar World Casino 400 night race on June 7. “I was ready to get back in the truck and do it again.
“I think I’m a whole lot like my dad. I like to treat people like I want to be treated and show respect to everybody. All the guys at Turner Scott Motorsports know how bad I want it, and I come to the shop almost every day when I’m in town. It’s not a day what goes by I’m not thinking about how I can be better. I’m living the dream, man.”
By time he had made his real-life career decision, John Edward Burton IV – better known as Jeb – was well-versed in the pitfalls endemic to a life in motorsports.
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster at best, and dangerous, so you’ve got to sacrifice a whole lot to go down that path,” said John Edward Burton III – better known as Ward – a former Daytona 500 champion and Jeb’s father. “But he’s got his heart and soul in it. Jeb’s opened my eyes a lot.”
Ditto for the NASCAR community. Jeb’s breakthrough victory on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval in Fort Worth capped an
impressive seven-race stretch that produced three poles, three top-five and five top-10 finishes. Those stats not only placed Jeb atop the Sunoco Rookie of the Year point standings but also dropped him into the championship conversation alongside series veterans Matt Crafton, Brendan Gaughan and Johnny Sauter, and actually ahead of TSM teammate/reigning champ James Buescher.
“It looks easy but it’s a whole lot of hard work,” said Burton, driver of the No. 4 Arrowhead Chevrolet Silverado prepared by crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. “We’re blessed to have the sponsor I’ve got and the crew chief and team. They believe in me. They have confidence in me when I give them feedback on the truck and we’ve got a good relationship going. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”
First victory in the books, Jeb will make his competitive debut at Kentucky Speedway Thursday night during the 14th annual UNOH 225 after testing on the 1.5-mile quadoval in Sparta two weeks ago.
“We have a really, really good truck there. Pretty pumped-up about it,” Burton said during a national teleconference on Tuesday. “Like the racetrack. I like the bumps. It makes it a handful to drive, and I think it kind of puts it back in the driver’s hands a little bit. So I’m excited to get there.”
The race will be televised live at 8 p.m. (EDT) on SPEED and broadcast by Motor Racing Network Radio and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
In Fort Worth, Jeb took the lead from Ty Dillon and his No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevy on a restart on Lap 144 of the scheduled 167 and motored to victory by 0.139-seconds. German Quiroga rounded out the podium in third in his No. 77 Net 10 Toyota Tundra, while series point-leader Crafton finished fourth in the No. 88 Goof Off/Menards Toyota. Crafton, who began the race with a 30-point lead over Burton, exited Texas with a 23-point advantage.
Burton, who started third and led twice for 25 laps, recorded the win one year after watching the Texas race on television because of a lack of sponsorship.
Ward Burton celebrated “the most special moment in motorsports I’ve ever experienced” with his son post-race at TMS, the track where he made nine career Cup starts between 1997 and 2006 with a best finish of seventh in ’97.
“The biggest two races I won were the 500s at Darlington and Daytona,” Ward said. “But anybody’s that’s got children, the experience of them and all the sacrifices you make for them to be successful, it’s such a different emotional experience. It’s hard to say it’s better (than winning himself) but it’s damn sure at the top.”
Jeb said he sensed that his first Truck Series win was somewhat of a relief for his father, who was almost apologetic during his post-Texas news conference for not always having the resources to fully fund his son’s racing career. But Jeb begged to differ.
“My dad has done a lot for me,” Jeb said. “So him saying that, he just means by me not running K&N and ARCA and having a whole bunch of opportunities…I think not having that has made me the person I am today and made me the race car driver I am. Looking back on it, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t. I’ve done something different than a lot of people and just jumped right from Late Models and went straight to Trucks. So I think definitely it took a big weight off my dad, and all his hard work’s paid off.
“Dad’s looking out for me, and he cares a lot about me.”
Jeb _ that’s the contracted version of John Edward Burton _is the latest family member to emerge from Halifax County in south-central Virginia, home to his dad and Sprint Cup Series veteran/uncle Jeff.
“Jeb, that’s a good Southern name,” said Ward, 51, whose first name is a contraction of sorts. “I’m the third John Edward and they shortened it to ‘Ward’ because there was nothing left to call me. But I knew I’d name (his son) Jeb when I was 9-years-old. I even told my grandmother I’d name him Jeb.”
Ward logged five Cup victories during a 17-year career, including two of NASCAR’s premier events _ the 1991 Southern 500 and 1992 Daytona 500 for Bill Davis Racing. Jeff Burton, of Richard Childress Racing, began the 2013 season with 21 career Cup victories. For the family record, Jeff won the inaugural Cup race at TMS in April 1997, and also became the track’s first two-time series winner in April 2007. Ward’s best finish in Fort Worth was seventh in ’97.
Given that family background, Jeb said there was little doubt he would chase a racing career. “Probably not. Sports has always been my passion,” said Jeb, who played soccer and baseball at Halifax County High School. “Ever since I got into a race car it come natural to me. I fell in love with it and been around it my whole life.”
One of three children of Ward and Tabitha Burton, Jeb began competing in local motocross events as a pre-teen, overcoming one broken wrist before switching to go-karts. On his 16th birthday, Ward presented Jeb with a Limited Sportsman stock car to run in the NASCAR-sanctioned Whelen All-American Series at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, a three-eighths-mile paved bull ring that has served as a rite of passage for the Burton family. Jeb advanced into the Late Model ranks in 2010, winning South Boston’s Rookie of the Year award.
“But we didn’t stay there (South Boston) all the time,” Ward said. “We moved around to tracks in North Carolina and Virginia _ never ran for points at one track. I thought it was more important to get seat time at different configurations.
“You know, I haven’t always been able to give him the resources he’s needed to be more competitive. Some of the guys in Late Models would have multiple fulltime guys and a lot of resources available to them. We always had good cars but like in NASCAR from the top series on down, the ones with the most financial resources and people are the ones that run fast.
“We did all we could for him. He has all the raw talent. He’s made the best of what he’s had and worked hard and not had a silver platter (handed to him). I wasn’t going to give him one. I didn’t have one and I think you appreciate things more and work harder when you have to scrap (for success) in life. And racing’s no different.”
Jeb logged five NCWTS starts with Hillman Racing in 2012, making his debut at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway. Jeb finished 13th on the lead lap but was forced to start skipping races after the season’s sixth event because of a lack of sponsorship. Ward and Jeb since have landed financial backing via a partnership with Kathy Farley, president of Arrowhead and Sequoyah Brands, whose Arrowhead e-cigarette is produced in South Boston. “We got an up-and-coming sponsor,” Jeb said. “They’re hiring a lot of people in the community and it’s a win-win for everybody.”
The 2012 offseason barely had begun last November when Turner Scott Motorsports announced it had signed Jeb to run a fulltime Truck Series schedule in 2013-14, as well as limited Nationwide Series events. TSM was established in 1999 by Texas businessman Steve Turner, who was joined by Harry Scott Jr. as co-owner in 2013. This is the fourth season of fulltime NASCAR competition for the Mooresville, N.C.-based organization.
“Jeb and I, we went and interviewed a lot of different teams and asked a lot of questions,” Ward said. “At the end of the day I had where I felt he should be; Jeb said we should go back to Turner. It was a good decision. Steve Turner’s philosophy and how he runs that team is just perfect for us. Mike Hillman Jr. is like an older brother and friend and advisor all rolled into one and that’s important for a young driver. His team members like him, he plays basketball with them and works on the car with them. He’s happy and with people who respect him. That’s exactly what he needed to happen.
“There was periods in my career when I turned down some of the biggest rides in the sport from being loyal, and a couple of times that loyalty wasn’t repaid to me. Somebody in Jeb’s shoes needs to be loyal and honest and always take care of the people that have taken care of you. We hope to treat a (team) relationship the same way you want to be treated and hope that it lasts for a good, long time.”
Turner said Jeb impressed him during his limited Truck Series schedule last year. “And I’ve always been in love with his dad because of his accent,” Turner, 57, said with a laugh. “They’re outdoors people and everything we are – racers, hunters, fishers. We got the opportunity to hook up for two years. Jeb’s an extreme talent. He just needs to settle down here the rest of this year, but he’s ‘there.’ He will be in the Cup Series, just like his dad. He’s his harshest critic and sometimes tries too hard. But we enjoy being around him.”
Jeb said his immediate goals certainly include winning Rookie of the Year honors. “We can do it. Mr. Turner does a great job with the people he’s got there,” Jeb said. “But my (ultimate) goal is to be 25 and be in a Cup car. That’s five years. I think that’s plenty of time for me to get really good and get confident and win a bunch of races.”
Along those lines, Jeb said he has sought to model himself after five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. “He’s talked to me a whole lot,” Jeb said of Johnson, the Hendrick Motorsports superstar. “He helped me a whole lot at a lot of different racetracks. So definitely give the credit to him and my dad. Jimmie’s done a really good job taking time and talking with me, and it really means a whole lot.
“Jimmie obviously is one of the best there ever was, and I’ve talked to him about a lot of stuff off the racetrack about how to be better and just working out and trying to be the best you can be. I think that’s why he’s so good. He’s so focused. I’ve told him, ‘That’s my role model, and that’s who I want to be like.’ So for him to take the time and talk to me, it really means a lot.”
Jeb said he remains committed to a second season for TSM in the Truck Series in 2014, while also mixing in perhaps as many as two Nationwide Series starts this season. Burton hopes to bump his Nationwide schedule up to seven or eight races next season.
Turner, meanwhile, classified Jeb’s Cup timetable is “a little ambitious. You’ve got to look at these Cup seats; it used to be that every year there were two or three available. Now it’s not like that. You’ve got to let these things cycle through. But by the time he’s 28-29, I think he’d be ready.”
Meanwhile, racing is not the only lifestyle endeavor shared by Ward and Jeb. An avid outdoorsman, Jeb is a supporter of The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation (www.twbwf.org). As the organization’s founder, Ward has emerged as a leading voice in resource protection, habitat restoration and environmental education.
“Jeb always enjoyed the outdoors,” Ward said. “So he’s done a good job with taking up my life on that subject as well. I do a lot of the work here (3,500-acre tract) so it’s like one of my children also. And you like to have your children enjoy something you enjoy, you know?”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment