August 18, 2016
Burton enjoys afternoon experience with the Hokies
A lifelong Virginia Tech fan, NASCAR driver Jeb Burton attended the football team's Tuesday practice and got to meet with the players and coaching staff

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Jeb Burton is used to driving fast, dashing down straightaways at more then 200 miles per hour and clutching his steering wheel while navigating turns. Racing is in his blood and it provides him with experiences that are nearly unequaled.

Burton, though, enjoyed a memorable Tuesday in Blacksburg when he and his sister, Sarah Graper, accepted invitations to be a part of the Hokies’ football program for a day. Burton, the 24-year-old son of former NASCAR driver Ward Burton – the 2002 Daytona 500 winner – and the nephew of another former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton, has endured a rough stretch as he pursues a racing career, but a day in Blacksburg brought a smile to his face.

Burton is a lifelong fan of Virginia Tech and he spent the afternoon touring the facilities, hanging out in meeting rooms, talking with coaches and players and even shagging a few passes before practice.

“I’m trying to take it all in,” Burton said during a break in the afternoon’s itinerary. “It’s very cool to be here. As a little kid, I watched those guys on TV and idolized those guys. I’ve been a fan of Bud Foster [Virginia Tech defensive coordinator] since I could barely walk. He’s one of the best defensive coaches ever in my book. He’s probably one of the best ever in college football. He’s a great guy.

“To be here and to see all the meeting rooms and what all goes into it and what they’re going through now is pretty cool. Now I understand it differently. I knew it was a lot of hard work, but it’s a totally different ball game than what I thought it was. It’s pretty impressive.”

Burton grew up in South Boston, Virginia in the south-central part of the state. The town of 8,000 sits two and a half hours from Blacksburg and two and a half hours from Charlottesville, the home of the University of Virginia.

Yet Burton’s allegiance was to the maroon and orange, and almost from birth. His father worked with a Virginia Tech professor after establishing his foundation – The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, which works to conserve land and wildlife and to promote good stewardship of natural resources. His dad’s work led to a few trips to Blacksburg, further deepening the bond between the family and Virginia Tech.

“At hunting camp, my dad’s buddies were Tech fans and my grandpa was a UVA fan and I definitely wanted to cheer against his team to have a rivalry deal in the house,” Burton said. “I just started pulling for them when I was 7 years old. I started watching football and I kept up with them.”

Burton played football as a kid and also in middle school before gravitating toward racing. He realized that he didn’t possess the size or skills needed to play football at the collegiate level, but he, perhaps naturally, could drive a race car.

Perhaps contrary to what many think, there are similarities between a racing team and a football team, particularly when it comes to conditioning.

“Physically, it gets hot in those race cars,” Burton said. “These guys out here training every day … that’s the same kind of training I’m doing. Not the lifting of the weights as hard as them to get huge, but the physical stuff and the agility part is important. With the G’s in the corners and the heat – it gets 120 degree in those cars. You’re sweating, losing 6-8 pounds of water weight each race. You’ve really got to be hydrated.

“There’s a lot that goes into it. We study film. We watch the pit stops and the guys are athletes, too. A lot of those guys are ex-football players. Racing is an athletic sport. The driving, you don’t have to be athletic, but you do have to be in shape and I think the best guys out there are the ones who work the hardest.”

Burton hopes to become one of the best at his craft some day. He signed with Richard Petty Motorsports at the beginning of the season, but after 11 races in the XFINITY Series, a primary sponsor backed out, leaving the team short of financial support to keep the operation running.

He drove in the XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis in late July for Biagi-DenBeste Racing, which secured a sponsorship from Estes Express Lines, a Virginia-based company. He also plans to drive for Biagi-DenBeste Racing in the XFINITY Series race in Richmond on Sept. 9.

Of course, that’s the night before the Hokies’ big football game against Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway. But Burton hopes to make an appearance.

“I’m trying to go to the game at Bristol,” he said. “I’m trying to make the logistics work because I’m racing in Richmond the night before in the XFINITY race. I hope to get everything worked out.”

Even if he can’t make it, one thing is for sure. One of the Hokies’ biggest fans hopes that the football squad takes the checkered flag on that night – and numerous others.

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