Ward Burton won nine NASCAR races over a 10-year period.
He won five events at the Winston Cup level, including the 2001 Daytona 500, over a seven-year period from 1995-2002.
He won four Xfinity Series events from 1992-93.
He stepped away from NASCAR in 2007, eventually returning for one NASCAR Trucks race in 2012, earning a top 10 finish.
Not surprisingly, there are certain aspects of NASCAR that he still misses to this day.
“ The competition part, I will always miss it,” said Burton, who drove in nearly 550 NASCAR races from 1990 through 2007, along with that one Trucks event five years later. “The comradeship and getting the car where it will go around that race track properly and trying to be on the edge, I always thrived on that.”
No wonder Burton liked racing in Bristol so much.
“ That track is very challenging, the sense of speed because it has significant banking is probably more than any track you go to,” Burton said.
Yet, there were other parts of NASCAR that drove Burton from the sport into his true lifelong passion, creating the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, an organization dedicated to sportsman’s and wildlife conservation.
“ Everything is about money now. My kid, Jeb, is as good as I ever was and probably better, but it is who gets the opportunity, who brings the money,” said Burton, whose son is a part-time driver on the NASCAR Xfinity Series. “He works his butt off with the partner that he has got and he is very lucky to have them, but he needs a couple more to run the full schedule.
“ If it was like it is today, I never have left South Boston, Virginia, there is no way, impossible.”
The older brother of NASCAR driver and TV personality Jeff Burton, Ward stepped away from the sport in 2007.
“ Some of that was out of my control. I had been very loyal to a particular car owner and the same loyalty wasn’t repaid to me at a time that drastically affected me and I just wasn’t sure who to trust anymore and just absolutely stepped away from it,” said Burton, who turned 58 on Oct. 25. “I had a whole other life that I missed by spending time outdoors and working on our conservation efforts as well as others. I am busier now than I have ever been in my entire life, I can promise you that.”
Burton drove 375 races over 13 seasons in the Winston Cup series, collecting five wins, 82 tops 10s and seven poles. He won the Southern 500 at Darlington in 2001 and the 2002 Daytona 500. Ten years later, he ran one Trucks race, finishing in the top 10.
He also drove 161 times over 10 years in the Busch Series, recording four wins, 50 top 10s and seven poles. His first win was at Rockingham in 1992, the last at Atlanta in 1993.
Not a bad career at all, but he stepped away and turn full-time to TWBWF, a passion developed as a child growing up in South Boston, located in Halifax County.
“ There was nothing else. When you are really young and there is a creek behind the house and a small little woods, you go around when you are 6, 7 or 8-years old and you start branching out much further,” Burton said. “Once I got around 8 my dad gave me a little Ford 10 and that turned into more of a hunting activity, but I lived in the woods for two years when I didn’t know what I was going to do with a deer…”
Burton, who recently went elk hunting in Montana, knows all about wildlife now, as evidenced by his creation of the TWBWF.
He will, however, always have fond memories of his time in NASCAR, including his history at Bristol, which never included a win, but did involve some nice runs.
“ I was lucky enough to race it when it was still paved,” said Burton, in describing the track in 1991. “I really liked it when it was paved.”
That all changed when BMS made the controversial decision to change to concrete, which has continued to be a complaint in recent years for the perceived downturn in popularity of the track.
Still, Burton came close to that elusive win a few times.
“ When they changed it to concrete, it made the cars - because of the surface of concrete - being a little more rougher and made the cars a lot more critical with how they handled than when they were paved,” Burton said. “It was a challenging track, hard to get your car to handle like you want it, but we had some decent runs and should have won a couple of Busch races.
“ It seems like every time we were lapping people we got into trouble, but yes, a neat race track.”