Jeff Burton to serve as grand marshal at Lebanon I-44 Speedway, while also cheering on 13-year-old son Harrison

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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.

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Column: Contrasting Michael Schumacher’s and Robert Wickens’ situations

(Photo: Tony Gentile / Reuters)
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As much of the world looks forward to Christmas and New Years Day in the next few weeks, a dark anniversary is also on the near horizon.

It’s hard to believe that December 29 will mark five years since seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher was critically injured in a skiing accident, suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Schumacher and his family were on holiday in the French Alps when he fell and struck his head on a boulder. The impact was so severe that it cracked the helmet he was wearing straight through.

One can only imagine the damage the impact did to Schumacher’s skull and brain.

While chronologically the accident occurred a half-decade ago, for many of “Schu’s” most ardent fans, it seems like it was just yesterday when the earth-shattering news broke.

In the following days and weeks after his accident, Schumacher was placed in a medically induced coma, as well as had at least two surgeries on his brain.

Since then the world has waited for news about the racing legend’s condition, only to receive very little in terms of updates over the subsequent five years.

That’s the way his family wants it, having repeatedly requested privacy when it comes to details about Michael’s condition. That request for privacy should be respected.

Schumacher’s wife, Corrina, issued a rare statement late last month that didn’t really say much about her husband’s condition or recovery, but she did thank fans and well-wishers for their continued prayers and concern about her husband, adding, “We all know Michael is a fighter and will not give up.”

In the meantime, Schumacher’s fans have been able to stay somewhat close to his legacy by watching as his 19-year-old son, Mick, has showed significant achievement in his own budding racing career.

So much so that rumors have already popped up that the younger Schu may soon follow in his father’s F1 footsteps, perhaps as early as 2020.

That, of course, remains to be seen.

What makes the Schumacher situation so difficult for many to still understand is how, while enjoying a simple skiing excursion with his family, he suffered a life-changing accident while having survived some wicked crashes during his racing career that barely affected him.

We still don’t know if Schumacher can walk, talk, is conscious and lucid or not – and many of his fans have already accepted that we may never, ever know any of those details. But if that’s the way he and/or his family want it, again, then we need to respect their wishes.

At the same time, there’s another race car driver who suffered a horrendous injury at Pocono Raceway this past August, namely IndyCar driver Robert Wickens.

Wickens suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that has left him a paraplegic – although there remains a great deal of hope that he will one day walk again.

While both suffered serious injuries, there’s a significant contrast between Schumacher and Wickens. The former (or his family) is keeping all details about his condition private, while the latter keeps his fans and supporters regularly updated on social media on how he’s doing.

That includes Wickens posting a number of videos, including some rather humorous ones where he has a mischievous look in his eyes or a good-natured smirk on his face — like bringing in a Christmas tree to his rehab facility, or “racing” teammate James Hinchcliffe in wheelchairs in a Days of Thunder homage of sorts.

Watching each new Wickens video or reading his most recent online messages, it’s very clear that expressing himself and reaching out to the world is indeed good therapy and medicine of sorts for the Canadian driver.

He needs those social media posts and videos as much as we need them from him.

And it also helps fans better understand where Wickens is at in his recovery and rehab.

If Schumacher or his family wish to still remain private about his condition, we must respect that. But perhaps they could see the good will and good tidings that Wickens’ videos and posts offer. They’re as good for Wickens’ own well-being as they are for his fans — and they could be equally as good for Schumacher, his family and his fans.

Follow @JerryBonkowski