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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IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”