Amidst all the hype at Daytona last week, there were three things that brought a smile to my face: A.J. Allmendinger’s victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the announcement that Elliott “Rabbit Release” Sadler would be running the 33 car for Richard Childress Racing in the Daytona 500, and the announcement that John Edward Burton III would be running in the Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona. All is not lost with the world.
Of course, you serious fans know that last driver mentioned is better known as Ward Burton, 2002 Daytona 500 winner and older brother of Jeff. As a driver with five career wins in 13 seasons, he may not be the most decorated racer in the world, but if you ask this fan, Ward Burton embodies the “good old boyness” of NASCAR that made it so endearing.
First of all, he’s from the heart of NASCAR country- the South- hailing from the state of Virginia. With that pronounced drawl, he’s got a certain “Old South” aristocracy tone that sounds radically different than Jeff (Ward claims he was born at the “southern end of the house”). Listen to this bit recorded of Ward attempting to read a commercial script (click here). It’s as funny as heck, and Burton has the sense of humor to laugh at himself. I love having Burton around NASCAR just for the joy of hearing him talk. It adds a swirl of butterscotch to an increasingly vanilla series. For further proof, listen sometime to his interview at trackside after he threw a helmet at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car
Don’t think Ward has been sitting on his front porch all this time. One of Burton’s great loves is the outdoors. At the center of the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, he advocates for land and wildlife conservation. For this outdoorsman, every day is Earth Day. He’s also been involved with promoting 4-H clubs in Virginia and Alabama. With a brother nicknamed “The Mayor,” it goes without saying there’s a certain political astuteness about the Burton boys, and thoughts of Ward’s great loves bring to mind a Teddy Roosevelt type, the kind of guy I could vote for.
Ward has also been busy working with his son Jeb on launching his racing career. After the opening truck series race at Daytona, expect the 19-year old Burton to see much of the action in the number 27 truck, while Ward runs select races. It’s another apsect of NASCAR that you have to love, seeing one generation of racer passing the baton to the next.
Even if Burton is just around for a handful of races, it will make watching the Camping World Truck Series an even more enjoyable experience, as another high profile old schooler enters the mix.
Call me sentimental, but this announcement is more cool than hearing about some phenom getting his break. If he doesn’t win any races, there’s something about having Ward Burton at the track that gives one a feeling that a sense of order has been restored to NASCAR.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include: