THOMPSON, CONN. — Most people would agree that NASCAR’s future is in good hands, as the sport is loaded with young, talented drivers. Just how deep the sport’s youth movement runs, though, isn’t evident until you witness an event like the Busch North Throwback 100.
Saturday’s race gave fans their first opportunities to see a K&N Pro Series East race at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park since 2009. Furthermore, it allowed them to watch drivers such as Harrison Burton, and to see what all the fuss is about.
The 16-year-old Burton has a lot on his plate, but you wouldn’t know it by hearing him speak or watching him race. The son of former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton leads the K&N East in points, and already has made his Camping World Truck Series debut. He’s considered one of NASCAR’s rising stars, and with good reason.
Burton cruised to victory lane Saturday night, in front of a packed house at one the United States’ oldest race tracks. His talent is pretty undeniable, and his demeanor — sponsor-speak and all — seems groomed for NASCAR’s national series.
But Burton is far from the only talented teen on the series. Todd Gilliland, son of NASCAR driver David Gilliland, is just as talented as Burton, and has a work ethic that’s beyond impressive. Elsewhere, drivers such as 17-year-old Chase Purdy are breaking records previously held by guys like Martin Truex Jr.
The most striking thing about watching Burton hang around the garage with his similarly youthful compadres is that these really are just kids. World-class racers that already are more business-savvy than many of their peers, sure, but they’re still just kids.
Be it meeting up with friends behind the stands, hugging their parents after races or horsing around on the paddock, these guys are loving their stays in the K&N Pro Series. There are pressure and expectations, no doubt, but these drivers are enjoying racing with an enthusiasm that’s admittedly refreshing.
And they should live it up while they can, because their lives are about to get much, much different.