2013-01-09 / Sports

Local racer hopes to ride go-kart success to NASCAR

By Jim McConnell

Aaron Burnett moved from Florida to Chesterfield County in 2011 to begin the pursuit of a career in stock-car racing. 
Aaron Burnett Aaron Burnett moved from Florida to Chesterfield County in 2011 to begin the pursuit of a career in stock-car racing. Aaron Burnett Growing up in the shadow of Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Aaron Burnett had a passion for racing in his heart but no silver spoon in his mouth.

The latter proved to be a major speed bump in his pursuit of the former.

But he didn’t let it stop him.

When other kids got the opportunity to race go-karts at local tracks, Burnett stayed patient and saved his cash.

“I knew that one day, I was going to race something somewhere,” said the 20-year-old, who is now a Chesterfield County resident. “I wasn’t going to let anything deter me,” he said during an interview last week.

Burnett was 6 years old when his parents, Tim and Nancy, took him and his two siblings to watch a NASCAR race at Daytona for the first time.

“That was it,” Nancy Burnett recalled. “He was hooked.”

Eleven years later, Burnett put together enough money to buy his first go-kart. He launched his racing career in 2010 by winning the points championship for his class at Volusia Speedway and placing second in the state of Florida as a rookie.

That was the same year Burnett graduated one semester early from DeLand High School’s engineering academy, in DeLand, Fla., with a 3.5 grade-point average.

In 2011, a Chesterfield-based race team invited Burnett to come to Virginia and test their Late Model stock car at Southampton Motor Speedway, a 4/10-mile asphalt track in Capron.

It was the first time he had ever sat in the cockpit of a race car, but Burnett was impressive enough during the test session to earn a contract for the 2011 Late Model season at South Boston Speedway.

“After that, we said this kid has talent and we’re going to pursue it as hard as we can,” Tim Burnett said.

Even if that meant making a 9½-hourdrive from Florida to Virginia and leaving their teenage son in a county where the only people he knew were the members of his new race team.

Nancy Burnett, who preferred that Aaron attend college instead of racing full-time, acknowledged that her heart “wasn’t 100 percent into this.”

“I supported him, but it was definitely not my first choice,” she said. “I thought he was taking a very hard road. Not that college would be easy, but it would be easier to put him in a dorm room with a meal plan so we’d know he at least had food.”

For Burnett, college has always been a fallback option. The decision to move to Chesterfield County was a no-brainer – even though it meant having to say goodbye to his family and high school friends in Florida.

“I thought this opportunity would really jump-start my racing career, so I knew this was what I had to do,” he said.

Burnett enjoyed a successful rookie season at South Boston Speedway, posting multiple Top-5 finishes. For the season, he placed seventh out of 29 drivers in the Late Model division.

When financial difficulties prompted his team to prematurely close up shop with four races remaining in the 2011 season, Burnett found himself without a race team – and without the reason for moving to Virginia in the first place.

Still, he wasn’t about to run home defeated. Burnett decided to stay in Chesterfield County and get a job to support himself while pursuing another Late Model deal.

A lack of sponsorship dollars curtailed his racing opportunities last summer. Unable to find a Late Model ride, he raced at a few local go-kart tracks to keep his skills sharp.

“As a parent, I’d love to be able to provide the financial support he needs,” Tim Burnett said. “If I had the money, I’d give him every cent I have. That’s just not realistic; he chose a very tough sport to get into.”

Aided by a sponsorship from his employer, Chesterfield-based Townes Site Engineering, Burnett took his go-kart back to Florida last month and competed for the third consecutive year at the Daytona Dirt World Championships.

He’s still looking for sponsors and talking with a couple of Late Model teams about potential deals for the 2013 season.

And he’s nowhere near ready to walk away from his dream of NASCAR stardom.

“He’s had his good days and bad days, but he understands the big picture,” his father said. “He knows what he wants to do and he’s trying like heck to do it.”

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