In racing, winning is the best way to secure an opportunity to move to the next level. In 2017, Harrison Burton did plenty of that.
Burton won 10 times last season, including five victories in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, one in the ARCA Racing Series and four in super late model competition. The 17-year-old Burton also collected the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship in his sophomore season in the series.
The championship didn’t come easily for Burton, who spent most of the year locked in an intense battle with fellow young gun Todd Gilliland. Between the two of them, they won nine of 14 races, but it was Burton’s victory in the finale at Dover (Del.) Int’l Speedway combined with a crash by Gilliland that lifted Burton to the series title.
“It meant a lot to me because Todd is someone I’m hopefully going to race for a long, long time,” Burton said about winning the K&N East crown while driving for MDM Motorsports. “We raced each other clean all year and had really fun, hard races. He won some and I won some. It came down to the last race. It was really fun. The pressure was on and to go out and perform under pressure felt so good afterward. It made me feel a lot more confident about myself to go out and win that race, get the job done and get to win the trophy.”
The victories and championship were — in a way — vindication for Burton after a disappointing and often frustrating rookie season in 2016. He scored just one top-five finish that year and finished a distant seventh in the standings.
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For Burton, the son of 21-time NASCAR Cup Series winner and broadcaster Jeff Burton, coming back one year later and capturing five wins and the series championship was more about proving to himself that he could do it than anything else.
“I ran that series to prove to myself I could do it right,” said Burton, who also won the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing late model championship at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway last February. “Last year I had a pretty abysmal year. I struggled pretty hard and didn’t win as many races as I wanted to. I hold myself to high standards and that wasn’t any good.
“That was really fun to come back, work hard in the offseason on my physical conditioning and my mental conditioning to perform after that. I’m really proud of that and really proud of the guys at the shop that put that all together. It means a lot for everyone, not just me, but everyone that laid a finger on it and my whole family.
“You want it for yourself, but you want it for those guys at the shop as well. They put their hearts into as much as you do.”
Burton says a big part of his success stemmed from starting the year off with a victory during the annual SpeedFest at Georgia’s Crisp Motorsports Park last January. The victory didn’t come easy with Burton having to out-race a stacked field that included NASCAR star Erik Jones.
“That was so big for me because I knew that was a good way to start and that was something I could build off of,” Burton recalled. “For me that carried across all planes. I was able to build off that and get my mojo going if you will.
“I got my first win and that carried over into the next race and the next race and the next race,” Burton added. “I felt myself getting more confident and after that I was really, really confident every week. I was really proud of that. That was big.”
Burton says winning came fairly easily during his days racing quarter midgets. But the more he has climbed the racing ladder, the harder it has become.
“When I was really young and racing quarter midgets, winning kind of came pretty easy and it was interesting to transition from that and I’m still kind of working on that,” Burton admitted. “When I was 7 we went and won a lot of races. I probably raced 300 races in a year. I was busy and I won a lot of those races. You got used to winning.
“You go to the stuff like trucks, late models and K&N and all that and it’s few and far between that you win.”