By Mike Reader
The pair both started racing cars at age 5, when many children are learning to ride a bicycle.
Now Burton, 16, and Gilliland, 17, are members of the 2017 NASCAR Next class, a watch list of nine rising stars climbing the NASCAR ladder.
“The NASCAR Next program identifies emerging talent in our sport,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “Drivers in this year’s class have already achieved success on the track or shown potential.”
Burton’s father, Jeff Burton, won 21 races in NASCAR’s top series, and his uncle, Ward Burton, won the 2002 Daytona 500.
With that lineage, it’s little surprise that Harrison Burton started racing when he was just 5. Burton, who lives in Huntersville, has won a race each year since. He also is the youngest driver ever to make a NASCAR K&N Pro Series start, which he did at 15 years, 8 days.
Now in his second year with NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Burton has won races at Bristol Motor Speedway and Virginia’s South Boston Speedway.
Burton also has a limited number of NASCAR Truck Series races scheduled, driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Gilliland, from Sherrills Ford, became the youngest champion in any NASCAR national or touring series when he won the 2016 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West title while driving for Bill McAnally Racing.
Gilliland began his NASCAR K&N Pro Series career by winning his first four starts – tying a 60-year-old record established by Dan Gurney.
Gilliland’s father, David, and grandfather, Butch, have competed at NASCAR’s highest level.
Todd Gilliland, who turned 17 this month, will make his NASCAR Truck Series debut on June 2 at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. Gilliland will drive a Toyota Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
The rest of the team includes Chase Cabre, 20, Tampa, Florida; Hailie Deegan, 15, Temecula, California; Riley Herbst, 18, Las Vegas; Cayden Lapcevich, 17, Grimsby, Ontario; Ty Majeski, 22, Seymour, Wisconsin; Chase Purdy, 17, Meridian, Mississippi; and Zane Smith, 17, Huntington Beach, California.
Since it began in 2011, 36 of 46 NASCAR Next drivers have advanced to compete in one of NASCAR’s three national series, with more than a quarter going on to drive in the Cup Series. The last three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Sunoco Rookies of the Year are NASCAR Next alumni.
NACAR Next drivers must be 15-25 years old, aspire to race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and show potential – on and off the track. Industry executives, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drivers Council and media members take part in the selection process.
David Gilliland adjusts his safety equipment before his qualifying run for the 2016 NASCAR Daytona 500. Gilliland is the father of Todd Gilliland, a member of the 2017 NASCAR Next class. Terry Renna AP File Photo
Jeff Burton, seen here before a 2015 practice at Daytona, is the father of Harrison Burton, a member of the 2017 NASCAR Next class. JEFF SINER