Author: Littlefield, Brad
Date published: August 6, 2010
Brad Burton was 14 when his father, Scott, gave him a '72 Pontiac Formula Firebird for Christmas. That present became a big project for the pair that led to a big payoff: quality time in the shop and huge success on the quarter-mile. Brad, now 22, has driven it to four national event wins in Stock in the last three racing seasons.
The Burtons are a formidable father-son team at the racetrack. Remarkably, both placed in the Lucas Oil top 10 last season. Two national event wins already in 2010 have Brad atop the points standings midway through the season, and if his 4-0 record in national event finals is any indication, his unshakable focus will surely be an asset when the pressure cooker of a title chase reaches its boiling point.
The race car that Brad has wheeled to four national event victories in two calendar years was purchased as a fixer-upper for him and Scott to refurbish as his first street car. But bitten long ago by the racing bug, Brad talked him into making it a Stocker.
"We talked about it just before it was ready to be painted and decided that it wouldn't be the most logical street car," said Brad. "It turned into my dad's worst nightmare - we have two race cars now instead of one."
The Burtons fixed the front end on the red Firebird, put a roll cage in it, and painted it. Scott did the assembly work on the 455-cid Pontiac HO engine similar to the one in his '71 Formula Firebird. The machine work was done locally at Verle Stevens Racing Engines, where they also make dyno pulls every winter.
Brad never dropped any jaws pulling up to the parking lot in high school or in his four years at the University of Colorado in his '89 Toyota Camry, and that's all right with him. The dragstrip is where he shines, and he has always been fully aware of the sacrifices he has to make to continue racing.
"On weekends, I can play with my real toy, and that's good enough for me," he said.
Scott and Brad's mother, Diane, used drag racing to supercharge Brad's education as well. Having to miss school days to travel with his father, they agreed he could go if he maintained a B average.
"He was 14 or 15 when he wanted to go to the fall race in Las Vegas with me," Scott recalled. "I asked him how his grades were. He said, 'I'm doing pretty good, but I think I have a C in math.' I said, 'Come talk to me when you have a B.' He never complained. About two weeks later, he came up to me and said, 'Dad, I got a B in math. Can I come to Las Vegas with you?' "
The focus on math came in handy as Brad pursued a degree in civil engineering. He juggled a full load of college classes with drag racing for four years until he graduated with a 3.2 GPA in May.
"I don't know if I'll be able to hit it as hard after I get a job as I've hit it when I was going through school," said Brad. "I'm living in the now and enjoying the time that I can do this with my dad."
Scott's love for motorsports was founded as a young man in the Dallas suburbs in the early 1970s. He began racing motorcycles on short and half-mile tracks until he switched to muscle cars after he grew tired of getting injured. He had a '70 Boss 302 Mustang in high school and later switched to a '67 W30 Oldsmobile with which he began drag racing.
"It was a four-speed car, and it was a lot of fun," recalled Scott. "I always wanted to race Stock, but I couldn't afford it, so I bracket raced. We had an awful good time racing at Bill Hielscher's Green Valley Race City and Kennedale."
His race car education was furthered by a relationship with the Arlington, Texas-based Reher- Morrison Pro Stock team and late driver Lee Shepherd. Between going to college and pursuing his interest in aviation, Scott worked in their shop.
"I worked for Reher-Morrison and ported heads for Lee Shepherd back in the day," said Scott. "I went to Englishtown with them one year. When I was going to college, they always seemed to have a job for me in the summer. I would go over and ask Buddy [Morrison] if there was anything I could do, and he'd say, 'Well, we could put you over there and dip blocks or somethin'.' You can imagine how nice that was, hanging out at the hot tank on a 105-degree Texas day. They did that to get me to go back to college, and every fall, I was a little more determined."
After college, Scott worked on his flight ratings and joined United Airlines as a pilot in 1985, which took him from Texas to his current location in Golden, Colo. He bracket raced his Olds at Bandimere Speedway for a while and later put together a '71 Pontiac Formula Firebird to begin racing in Stock in 1999.
"I was kind of late to the game, but I certainly knew about it a lot in my earlier years," said Scott. "It's fun to try to do things within the confines of the rules. There are pretty tight rules, so you have to get the most out of not a whole lot, which is what Stock is all about."
Scott took to the category, and his young son was instantly fascinated.
Brad thrives in the late rounds. It may not be that he steps up when more is at stake as much as it is that the bigness of a moment doesn't affect him as much as it does the average, warm-blooded human being.
Brad is a perfect 4-0 in national event finals, beginning with his defeat of former national champion Jim Hughes at the 2008 Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals and most recently against fellow second-generation driver Tim Fletcher in the final of this year's Denver event. He also won in Phoenix in 2009 and got the gold Wally at the 50th Anniversary Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline in Pomona this season.
His first final should have put him at the height of pressure considering that he had never been in that position and it was at his home track. In Pomona, he was well aware of the historical significance of the 50th Winternationals but cut a great light and took the stripe in the final against fellow young gun Ryan McClanahan. Though he had been there and done that when he won again in Denver, he did so with a target on his back and a lot to gain or lose as the driver leading the points standings.
Brad is 2-1 in NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series finals, having won in Acton, Mont., in 2008 and Great Bend, Kan., this year and suffering his only defeat at Bandimere last season at the hands of Dic Geary.
"From a very early age, we'd go downstairs and work the practice Tree," said Scott. "The first one to 50 would win. He was probably 14 or 15, and there came a time where he started beating me, and I never beat him to 50 again. I still don't. He gets on that Tree, does good, and doesn't get nervous. He was that way when he was a young fella playing baseball. He pitched, and he just never seemed to feel the pressure much. It just doesn't seem to get to him. He has ice water running through his veins. I get all worked up; he doesn't."
Though Brad has earned family bragging rights, Scott has done well for himself as well. He began the 2009 season hot with back-to-back finals at Division 7 events in Tucson, Ariz., and Las Vegas, and he won the Las Vegas event. He led the points standings early in the year and held on to finish No. 8, two spots behind Brad. Scott made it to the final round at one national event, in Denver in 2006, and hopes to join Sam Biondo and Mike Blodgett Sr. as parents who scored their first national event victory after their children.
"Brad drives a little better than I do," said Scott. "I have a hard time putting together six or seven good runs over a long weekend. I've won a divisional, but it's a tough game. A lot of people go their whole career without ever winning a national event. I'm hopeful that I will sometime, but if I don't, I won't consider that success or failure."
"I keep hoping that Dad will get a national event win one of these days," said Brad. "He's been doing it forever, and he's been to a final. We've raced each other 12 times, and we're 6-6, so I don't know who the better driver is or who's gotten the better breaks."
As competitive as they are on the starting line, enjoying themselves is the name of the game for the family-based team. The Burtons receive support from home from Diane and daughter and sister Alyssa. Brooke Dark, Brad's girlfriend, goes to races with them, and they travel with fellow racers Steve Hagberg and Dwayne Scheitlin.
Brad manages to stay patient and levelheaded in an up-and-down sport. This season alone, Brad netted two wins early, struck out in the early rounds in a series of races since, and rebounded with a win in Denver.
"Racing is a very streaky sport," said Brad. "After the first three races, I'd won two and thought, 'Wow. This is going to be a great year.' All of a sudden, first round: out; second round: out; first round: out. It slaps you in the face. You're not doing anything different, but it's a time-and-place sport."
"Our deal is, we go to the races, and we have fun," said Scott. "That's really important for us. If we're having fun, we're probably going to do OK, too. What we always say after we both don't do well and kick the ground a few times is, 'We'll crack a victory beer and move on to the next challenge.' If you put the car in the trailer and nothing's broken, that's a good weekend."
"It's a great thing that I'm able to do this with my dad, and it's something I'll be able to cherish forever," said Brad. "Even if you lose first round, you want to look back at the weekend and say you had a good time. It's not possible to come out and win every weekend. There are guys I know in their 60s and 70s who have raced their whole lives and not won a national event. You have to look at the positives and have a good time. Going rounds and winning races is just icing on the cake."