News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 29, 2013

TRACKSIDE: Burton’s death shows tragic side of racing

Joe Buckles
The Tribune-Star

----- — The damp and dreary weather conditions that hovered over central Indiana this past weekend may have been all too fitting for the solemn mood at Lincoln Park Speedway Saturday night.

The on-again, off-again rain showers that eventually led to the postponement of the scheduled Midwest Sprint Car Series program brought an early end to a day that had been all to somber for the sprint car contingent that had gathered for a night of racing.

The tragic chain of events that had unfolded the previous night at Bloomington Speedway had cast a pall over what should have been an enjoyable night of racing at LPS.

Word had circulated the Putnam County racing facility that earlier in the day that young Josh Burton had succumbed to injuries from an accident the night before at Bloomington.

The popular 22-year-old driver — who was the 2012 Rookie of the Year at Lincoln Park and Bloomington Speedways — was caught up in a violent incident near the end of the sprint semi-feature and was involved in a series of flips. The Bloomington native was taken to the IU Health Bloomington Hospital where he died early Saturday morning.

Several of his fellow drivers took time at Putnamville Saturday evening to reflect on the young driver and tragic chain of events as they waited for the intermient rain showers that — much like their suffering — would simply not go away.

Whether it was the words of veteran drivers Jon Stanbrough and Kent Christian, or those of young Chase Stockon, the feelings and since of loss pretty much spelled out the emotions of the racers and fans in attendance.

The ugly side of open wheel racing that had once again reared its ugly head leaving those inside and outside of the sport stunned.

 The normally reserved Stanbrough couldn’t hold back his emotions when expressing his feelings about Josh’s passing and the dangers that go with his profession.

“I’ve had a lump in my throat all last night and all of today. It’s one of those things you don’t want to think about, but know can happen,” voiced the visibly upset Stanbrough.

“When you’re at the race track you try to erase the fears. You get in the car and do what you’ve got to do.”

Stockon won the ill-fated feature event at Bloomington and was shocked to learn of the severity of Burton’s injuries immediately following the race.

“I’ve seen worse before and I thought, ‘give him [Burton] time and everything would be ok.’ It was one of those terrible fluke things,” said Stockon.

“You know that things like this can happen. You do what you have to do and do it the best you can. We’ve lost a good racer and good friend,” added Stockon.

There’s probably no racer on the Indiana sprint car scene with more laps in a sprint car than the veteran Christian. As a teenager, he witnessed first hand the dangers and potential cruel consequences of racing.

His father Bob lost an arm in sprint car accident at West Memphis, Ark., years ago. He was the first to reach his dad and the incident remains fresh in his mind even till today.

“When you strap yourself in a race car you know it can happen anytime-anywhere, but you accept the dangers as part of the game. Drivers hate going to funerals and hate thinking and talking about it, but we all know it can happen,” Christian said.

“It doesn’t matter what type of car you might be in. Everybody tries to make these cars as safe as they can be. Sometimes it’s the way they [cars] hit. These cars can only take so much. Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason for what happens in racing. Theres been a lot of young talent taken away from us early in this sport. All I can say there must be a higher purpose,” he said.

* Pit notes — Many of the cars at LPS Saturday night had their tire lettering paint in bright orange colors — a trademark of Burton’s number 04 sprinter. They also carried specially designed decals honoring the fallen racer.

Stockon’s win was his first and that of his car owner Chris Gentry at the quarter-mile dirt oval.

Stanbrough is back with his former car Daryl Tates. Both driver and car owner are optimistic they will be back in winning form in the very near future. He ran second to Stockon at Bloomington.

Ken Schrader won the UMP modified portion of the rescheduled Hoosier Hundred at Indy Mile Friday night. Area driver Glenn Andrew ran No. 14 the in the modified show. He was quick to note that entering the turns at better than 140 mph on the dirt mile was quite an experience.

“I’ve done over 220 [mph] at places like Road America in a sports car and I can say that didn’t bother me as much as hauling that mod into those turns at the Fairgrounds. That mile is far scarier,” he confessed.

While it might be difficult for long time followers of the Hut Hundred midget classic to accept another new location for the running of the event the Hut is slated for Friday night at Tri-City Speedway located near Pontoon Beach, Ill. Its had been run at Haubstadt in recent years.

Joe Buckles can be reached at jbuckles4@frontier.com