Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ward Burton Resurfaces in Martinsville

NASCAR has it's own version of the children's interactive book series "Where's Waldo". At any given track on any given weekend, you'll see at least one person holding up a poster board sign asking "WHERE'S WARD?!!?!!?" in lushly scrawled marker. You'll also hear at least one (probably slightly inebriated) voice shout "Where's Ward?!!?" while standing behind the talking heads of one of the many live trackside shows that air 36 weekends a year.

They're talking about South Boston, Virginia's own Ward Burton. You may have heard of his brother Jeff Burton. Even a few non-NASCAR fans have heard of him, since he's currently leading in championship points in a sport whose popularity is gaining enough to almost be considered "mainstream". We love Jeff Burton, and wish him well, of course, but it's his brother Ward we really want to see racing.

The boys and girls here at Willard's Garage have loved Ward Burton for a long time now - maybe partly because of the way he talks. He talks like us. Not like his brother, who, the joke for many years has been, came from the North Side of the Burton household. Not exactly true. Although we have no physical evidence, rumor has it that Jeff wanted to be on the fast track to NASCAR success, and attended "speechin' school" to learn how to make nice with the media whenever a camera or microphone was shoved in his face. These days I think most drivers are required to do that, but back then I guess they had a choice, and as he often did in his youth, Ward played hookey on that deal, most likely opting to go hang out in the woods and commune with his first love, The Great Virginia Wilderness. Which is decreasing rapidly, and in his recent two years away from racing, Ward has spent his time championing that cause, on the board of Virginia Inland Game and Fisheries, and his own Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation.

Kind of ironic that brother Jeff has said many times that he wants to go into politics when his racing career is over, but there's his "hayseed" older brother, no speechin' school, no nuthin' , right in there mixing it up with the politicians while his racing career was put on temporary hold. Saving his state from the Yankee Carpetbaggers. That ain't the way Ward would put it, but that's exactly what he's doing. God bless him.

Why has Ward Burton been without a ride for two years? I don't have the energy to type that much. It actually boils down to NASCAR politics. Ward is an honest man, and a man who would rather die (or at least forsake a perfectly good & VERY lucrative career), than not be true to himself. In a nutshell, the reason Ward doesn't have a decent ride right now is because he chose to deal with people honestly and trust them. Unfortunately he trusted some of the wrong folks. That's my opinion. Ask any NASCAR fan and you're liable to get your ear gnawed off for an hour or more about why Ward ain't out there with his brother, mixin' it up to win a Championship. He has the talent, he just never had the right opportunity.

The last two years have been sorry and sad ones at Willard's Garage. When people ask us, "Who's your driver?", we all hang our heads, shift our eyes away, sigh, and say "We don't have one." Or, "He ain't racin' right now." It's a sorry feeling not having a driver you truly love to root for in any given race. Even is he's driving a complete piece of shit, and you know he's gonna get wrecked by some smooth-talking, nineteen year old rookie at the back of the pack, because his car isn't capable of running up front where he belongs.

So we'll celebrate this coming weekend when our Ward Burton makes a brief return in the Morgan-McClure #4 Car at Martinsville. Morgan-McClure is a Virginia team - the LAST Virginia team since the Wood Brothers flew South to stay competitive with the rest of the Charlotte-based teams. To say that Ward Burton driving a Morgan-McClure car would be the underdog to root for would be an understatement worthy of the highest farce.

If you were to put Ward in his brother Jeff's Richard Childress car - he could win the race. Handily. No doubt. But he's driving junk and he knows he's driving junk -no offense to Morgan McClure- they've actually made some incredibly good finishes with that car in spite of their one car-team/Virginia status. But as Ward said in an interview with Times-Dispatch Jill Erwin, "I can't fix the car by the seat of my britches." He stated that today it's more about the machine than the driver.

We'll be pulling for both this Sunday in Martinsville.

Godspeed, Ward. We love ya like all git out.

Now everybody go buy sumpin' at the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation. They got some cool gear there.


Anonymous rankin' rob said...

I watched Ward win in the Hardees car in the Busch race at ATL in 1994, and cheered for him ever after once I heard him interviewed in victory lane.

He's made a handsome living at it, but certainly got a raw deal after leaving Bill Davis Racing. Unfortunately for him he has to qualify on speed for this weekend's race, so our only chance to cheer might be in qualifying on Saturday. But I dare say he knows his way around the quirky paperclip bullring at Martinsville.

I miss Woahed. He is one of the last of the authentics.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous rankin' rob said...

errr, that would be qualifying on Friday.

7:47 PM  
Blogger The Dixie Butcher said...

We'll be there in spirit - hope it don't get rained out!

3:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great opening - Here are the first paragraphs (prob'ly a copyright violation in here somewhere):

At the far end of this paperclip-shaped track at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains is a red tent covering a red and white No. 4 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

The hauler is outside the track several hundred yards away, leaving the crew with only a big blue tool box to prepare the car. This is where the struggling teams, those not among the top 35 in owners' points guaranteed a spot in Sunday's Nextel Cup race, work feverishly while everybody else is under a covered garage with a fully equipped hauler a few steps away.

This is where Ward Burton has decided to make his comeback...



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