Until last Friday night, no other moment in Ward Burton’s racing career came close to bringing him to tears, including his victory in the 2002 Daytona 500.
That all changed when he watched his son, Jeb, win his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Texas Motor Speedway.
The elder Burton’s voice cracked and tears welled in his eyes when got to Victory Lane to join the celebration. Winning the Daytona 500 may have changed his professional life, but watching his son successfully follow in his tire tracks proved to be the most-gratifying thing he’s ever done as a father.
“Shoot man, this is the most special moment in motorsports I’ve ever experienced,” the father said.
Stock car racing always has been a family affair. While sons have followed their fathers in other sports, none compare to NASCAR. Richard Petty, Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt and Brad Keselowski all followed their fathers into the sport and all eventually won championships.
Other famous racing sons include: Davey Allison, Buddy Baker, Kyle Petty, Sterling Marlin, Bobby Hamilton Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr. and David Ragan.
Jeb Burton, Chase Elliott, Ty and Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney represent the newest group of next-generation drivers.
And while most of them are old enough to buy beer, all three already have significant victories.
Elliott, son of legendary driver Bill Elliott, won the ARCA Racing Series race last Saturday at the Pocono Raceway. At 17, he became the youngest winner in that series’ 60-year history.
“This was a lot of fun,” young Elliott said. “This means a ton to me. It was about 10 years ago that I was sitting in
Victory Lane here with my dad. It was strange coming here because I am so used to coming here with dad and watching him race.”
Bill Elliott watched the race from the top of the team’s transporter. And like Ward Burton, he was overwhelmed to see his son succeed.
“The kids today have so much more experience than when I came along at 17-, 18-, 19-years-old,” the 1988 Sprint Cup champion
said. “I mean, most of these kids have been racing already for 10 years by that point in time. They just have a lot more experience.
Blaney, son of Dave Blaney, won a truck series race last year at the Iowa Speedway.
The Dillon brothers are sons of former driver Mike Dillon and grandsons of car owner Richard Childress. Austin, 23, already has four truck and two Nationwide series wins, while Ty, 21, won a truck race last year at Atlanta.
But being the son of a famous driver doesn’t always lead to success. Jason Jarrett, Justin Labonte, Steadman Marlin,
Brandon McReynolds, Coleman Pressley, Steven Wallace and Matt Martin all have attempted racing careers, but they were derailed either by a lack of sponsorship or commitment.
Jeb Burton, 20, almost didn’t get his chance, but with the help of his father he was able to land Arrowhead, a disposable electronic cigarette, as a sponsor.
“As a father, I was stressed, to say it mildly, that I couldn’t provide the opportunity for my son,” Ward Burton told the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph. “We worked really hard from there to get back here, and we’re just so thankful for Arrowhead for coming on board, because without that kind of support a young man like Jeb doesn’t get that opportunity.
“He’s driving off of pure talent. I can’t tell you how proud I am off him.”
“It’s been a lot of blood and tears to get here and it means a lot,” Jeb Burton said.
Ward Burton stopped driving full-time in 2004. His son was 12.
“Anybody 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,” the elder Burton said. “It’s hard to say it’s better [than winning the Daytona 500] but it’s at the top.”