There has been at least one Burton at the wheel of cars racing on local tracks for the last 45 years.
It began with Richard Burton, who started driving in 1968. An injury forced Richard out of the driver’s seat several years ago, but the tradition continued as his grandson Matt moved from super stock to drive the familiar red and white No. 36 his grandfather had driven in the pro truck division at Colorado National Speedway.
Matt Burton said he expects this, his sixth year of racing at Colorado National Speedway, to be the best year yet.
Burton said having a great year is a challenge because there are 16 to 20 trucks in the division and the top six are often separated by as little as a thousandth of a second in time trials.
“Every year of racing is a learning experience as you and your crew seek to be more successful,” the Englewood resident said. “Things have gone pretty well as this season reaches the halfway mark.”
Burton is currently in third place in the points standing with 203 points, 24 points behind division leader Rudy Vanderwal. The difference is small because, in a good night of racing, a driver can earn as many as 40 points.
He said, at the July 5 race, his truck was ahead of the field the whole way and won the fast time dash. He was working his way to take the lead in the 50-lap main event when he said truck performance dropped dramatically. A trip to the pits discovered a portion of the suspension system had broken. That was corrected so Burton could return to the track and eventually finish seventh in the 16-truck field. The next pro truck race is July 28, and Burton said there will be few changes to the truck because, before the suspension mishap, the setup was perfect and the No. 36 was the fastest, best-handling truck in the field.
“While the truck was great in the last race, the challenge is to get better at every race, which demands the crew do a lot of homework,” Burton said. “After each race, the crew gets together to review our performance. We pick out the things that worked as well as the things that didn’t go well. Then, we look to improve the good things and see what needs to be done so the things that didn’t work well don’t happen again.’
He said crew homework includes studying the track and the opponents in the last race and determining if there are adjustments they can make on the truck to make it run better.
“We also read what others have written about this type of racing, we talk to people and we look at different options we think will help as we prepare for the next race,” the 2008 Englewood High School graduate said. “You can’t just go to the track with what we think will work best and expect to do well in the races.’
Longtime Englewood resident Richard Burton said he is proud to see his grandson Matt’s performance as a race driver.
“I started racing at Englewood Speedway as soon as I was old enough to get out on the track,” Richard Burton said. “I think that was about 1968 and I raced up until I was struck by lightning in September 2009. I hope eventually to recover enough to get back behind the wheel, but until then, I help Matt with his truck and cheer him on.”
The elder Burton was the figure-8 champion at Englewood Speedway in 1978, the final year of competition before the track closed. He continued driving and won championships in each of the next three decades at tracks that included Lakeside Speedway and Colorado National Speedway.
The younger Burton said racing is probably in his blood and it is a passion of his.
“As early as I can remember, every summer the whole family traveled to the races to support Grandpa,” Matt Burton said. “Because of the rules, I had to wait until I was 14 to be allowed in the pits as part of his crew. I worked on Grandpa’s car until I was old enough to begin driving in races. I drove a super stock and a couple other types of cars and a couple years ago, switched over to pro trucks. I drove Grandpa’s No. 36 for a couple years and then we put together the new No. 36 truck I am driving.”
The vehicle Burton drives is shaped like a pickup truck, but that is where the similarities to a pickup on the road end.
The frame is carbon fiber tubing and the frame is covered with a skin made of a thin sheet of metal to keep the weight to about 2,800 pounds. The truck is powered by a custom-made 355-cubic-inch engine that produces about 500 horsepower. Buying a pro truck ready to race would cost $25,000 to $30,000, with the biggest expense being the engine at $15,000 to $20,000.
Fuel, tires and spare parts — plus the cost of the trips from Englewood to the track in Erie — add up, so Burton, like all drivers, has sponsors who help cover the costs. Most of the sponsors listed on the side of his truck are Englewood businesses, such as Frank the Pizza King and Bill’s Englewood Drive Shaft.
Burton’s truck takes a little over 16 seconds to circle the three-eighths-mile paved track, hitting top speeds of about 125 mph.
Matt, his dad and his grandfather are the primary team that works preparing the engine and the truck for the races. Other family members join them in the pits for the races.
“I think the pro truck division is a fan favorite and I expect it will get faster with more trucks entering the competition,” Matt Burton said. “There are rules on weight, horsepower and a number of other technical requirements the vehicle must meet. That is why our division is so competitive as everyone looks for that little thing that will help them get in first place and stay there.”