Like Father, Like Son: Harrison Burton Making His Own Opportunities
From the outside, it may seem as though Harrison Burton’s road to the NASCAR Xfinity Series has been an easy one.
After all, he’s the son of accomplished racer and current NBC broadcaster Jeff Burton, who spent 20 full seasons competing at NASCAR’s highest level. In that time, he earned 21 NASCAR Cup Series victories and was a constant threat to visit Victory Lane.
However, just because his father enjoyed a fruitful NASCAR career, there was no guarantee Harrison Burton would enjoy that same success. It didn’t even mean he’d get any opportunities. So instead of relying on the reputation of his father, Harrison Burton has put in the work to earn his opportunities.
“I think everyone has to work super hard. You don’t get to the Xfinity Series, Truck Series or Cup Series without being really, really darn good,” the younger Burton said. “I think the thing that taught me that was watching my dad do it growing up.
“He was always at the shop. He was always working out. He was always, always working to be a better race car driver. That was really something I was proud of as a kid, watching my dad do his thing and be who he was. That was something I wanted to be like when I got bigger.
“That was probably my biggest advantage, knowing how hard it is and knowing how much work it takes.”
Harrison Burton, who turned 20 on Oct. 9, has taken those lessons he learned from his father to heart as he’s embarked upon a racing career.
Starting in quarter midgets and progressing up the ranks, he’s been successful at nearly every level. He’s won multiple times in asphalt late model competition, claimed the ARCA Menards Series East championship in 2017 and earned three ARCA Menards Series victories by the time he turned 18.
He’s had to work and earn his opportunities, like the opportunity he secured this year to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
“If you go back and look at his whole career, he’s never really had a chance to just sit back, settle in and spend two or three years doing something,” Jeff Burton explained. “Although there’s some negatives in that, there’s also some positives in that. Even in those situations, I think it has made him better. I think it has made him appreciate opportunities. I think it’s put him in situations where he has had a chance to learn.”
When Harrison Burton was announced as part of the Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series team prior to this season, some questioned his selection. They pointed to his lackluster 2019 season driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. Entering the season he was considered a title contender, but he failed to win or make the Truck Series playoffs.
It proved to be a difficult year for Burton, but one that prepared him for his current role.
“It made me better, honestly,” Burton acknowledged. “It was one of the toughest years of my life. There is no two ways about it. It was a tough year for me and it was something I think made me a better person and, hopefully, a better race car driver.”
The haters were quickly silenced early this year when Burton claimed his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at California’s Auto Club Speedway. He backed it up by collecting another victory a few months later at Florida’s Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It was awesome to get it out of the way,” Burton said of his first Xfinity Series victory. “I’m in the playoffs for sure. I can just worry about having fun and trying to be better and trying to work really hard. You don’t have to be as stressed out when you have that first win. It kind of took a weight off my shoulders.
“Then with the COVID break, it kind of seemed like everything shut down all of a sudden. So it was hard to keep that momentum going from my first win to my second win at Miami. That is something I’m really proud of, winning in a situation as a rookie with no practice.”
So why is Harrison Burton so good behind the wheel at such a young age? There are many reasons, but Jeff Burton says it comes down to the talent he was born with and the work his son has put in to constantly get better.
“No. 1, he has talent, right? Talent can be nurtured to a point, but there’s also a certain amount of talent that where you’re not able to be competitive as you step up through the ranks,” Jeff Burton explained. “He’s fortunate enough to have some talent that God gave him. He doesn’t have that without also appreciating and understanding that if he doesn’t work really hard every day, he won’t be successful.”
Harrison Burton’s work ethic has gotten him this far. As a rookie he qualified for the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs, which gives him a shot at winning the series championship. If he’s going to do that, he’ll first need to survive the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL™.
Lucky for Burton, he competed on the ROVAL™ last year in the Xfinity Series, so he’s not entering the Oct. 10 Drive for the Cure 250 presented by BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina completely green.
“That’s an advantage I think, just knowing the race track and being on kind of a level playing field with the guys you’re racing against to try and win a championship,” Burton said. “Just knowing the race track, going there for a second time and feeling more confident about what I can and can’t do, the grip level, the shift points and the brake points, and how to be a better road racer in general.
“I think I’ve learned a lot from then until now and I’m excited to go back and try it again.”
About the Writer: A 2007 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Adam Fenwick is the news director for SPEEDSPORT.com and SPEED SPORT Magazine.