NBCSN’s own Jeff Burton loves short track racing – after all, that’s where he cut his racing teeth growing up in southern Virginia.
So it’s no surprise that Burton, who has long had the nickname “The Mayor of NASCAR,” has agreed to be Grand Marshal for the 2nd annual Mercy Masters of the Pro’s 144 at Lebanon I-44 Speedway in Lebanon, Mo., on May 17.
Not only will Burton fulfill his Grand Marshal duties, which includes handing over a check for $8,000 for the winner of the Pro Late Model main event, he’ll also be on hand to watch 13-year-old son Harrison compete in both the Pro Late Model and Super Late Model events that evening.
It’s pretty clear the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree: Harrison finished second in the 2014 World Series of Asphalt Racing this season during NASCAR’s Speedweeks in February at nearby New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway, earning two wins in the week’s worth of racing.
“We are very excited to compete in what has become one of the marquee pro late model events in the country and I was honored to be asked to act as Grand Marshal of the race,” Jeff Burton said in a track-issued media release.
In last year’s inaugural 1st Annual Mercy Masters of the Pro’s 144, Chase Elliott – who has literally exploded onto the NASCAR Nationwide Series scene this year with two wins already – set a new Pro Late Model track record (14.344 seconds) en route to the overall victory on the 3/8-mile high-banked surface at I-44 Speedway.
“Our 2013 event set the bar so high and we are very blessed to have a great partner like Mercy Hospitals as a partner,” Speedway general manager Kevin Greven said. “Jeff Burton, The Mayor of NASCAR, was very gracious to come in as our grand marshal and I am very excited to see his son Harrison entered in the event.”
The elder Burton is wrapping up a 20-year career in Sprint Cup this season, driving part-time for Michael Waltrip Racing as well as serving as an in-studio analyst for NBCSN’s NASCAR AMERICA. He’ll become part of the NASCAR on NBC race coverage broadcast team when NBC and NBCSN take over for outgoing ESPN and TNT next season.
Check out the video below of Harrison’s post-race interview after one of his wins earlier this year at New Smyrna.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.