Three of the youngest drivers in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race (LIVE on SPEED at 1:30 p.m. ET; NCWTS Setup with Krista Voda at 1 p.m. ET) may be short on years and racing experience, but they’re long on pedigrees and time spent together.
Ryan Blaney, 19, Jeb Burton, 20, and Chase Elliott, 17, not only are climbing the NASCAR ladder together, they grew up at the race track alongside each other while their fathers competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As the sons of Dave Blaney, Ward Burton and Bill Elliott, respectively, the three “young guns” all have fond childhood memories of passing race weekends surrounded by motorhomes, asphalt and campfires.
“I remember growing up with Jeb at the track,” reflected Blaney, who at 18 became the youngest driver ever to win a Truck Series race last season. “He and I were closer to the same age when our dads were racing. Bill (Elliott) was kind of getting out of it by the time we were old enough to really roam around by ourselves, and Chase was younger … I got to know Chase and Jeb pretty good over the past couple of years.”
“The (Motor Racing Outreach) playground was obviously the hangout,” recalled Elliott, attempting to make his career-first Truck Series start this weekend in the No. 94 Aaron’s Dream Machine/Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet. “That was just a fact. If you weren’t at the playground on race weekend, you weren’t at the race track. That’s just the way it was. It’s been such a long time, but I do remember hanging out with those guys for sure.”
“There were a lot of drivers’ kids around my age,” added Blaney, driver of the No. 29 Cooper Standard Performance Products Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing. “It was kind of that age group of eight-to-12 years old, and we’d always go to Motor Racing Outreach and hang out. We really looked forward to seeing each other. That’s the only thing you can really do at the race track at that age. You don’t know enough to go in the pits and be interactive (laughing).”
While all three are blessed with talent and competitive equipment in the Truck Series, there is no doubt they are exceedingly fortunate to have fathers who can impart years of experience.
“He has been a big help, a big influence on me,” Blaney said of his father, Dave, who pilots the No. 7 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the Cup Series. “I’m very fortunate he’s still racing Cup and has been able to help me out even more on that side since we’re racing some of the same tracks this year. He’s a huge help when he’s at the track, which is 90-percent of the races, and he’s always the first one to stick his head in the window and tell me what he thinks. It’s a big advantage having him in my corner.”
“It’s just like every other father — he wants to see me do well and succeed,” said Burton, driver of the No. 4 Arrowhead Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports. “When I do really well, he’s emotional because it means something to him. He knows how badly I want to do it and I’m good at it, so that’s really cool when everything comes together.”
So, as the mantle passes from father to son within this fraternity, the younger generation recognizes the tremendous potential of their playmates-turned-competitors.
“A developing talent,” Blaney said of Elliott, who won a race and finished fourth in the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East point standings as a 16-year-old. “He’s so young – only 17 – and getting all these opportunities and has been unbelievably good in all the Late Model stuff he has done. Being that good at 16 and 17, being with Hendrick and being able to run the Trucks … He’s going to be a huge threat in the races he runs this year and next year when he runs fulltime. He’s one to watch out for.”
“Chase is still learning these trucks and he’s going to be very good,” Burton predicted. “He has come to me with questions because while I don’t have a lot of experience in Trucks, I have more than him. He’s going to be good.”
Elliott and Blaney competed against each other seven times in the K&N Pro Series East in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, during which Blaney notched two top-five and four top-10 finishes as a 17- and 18-year-old. He hopped coasts once in 2011, winning the one K&N Pro Series West race he entered. Elliott finished third that day at age 15.
“He’s always been a good racer,” Elliott said of Blaney, whose nine Truck starts in 2012 netted him one win, two top-five and five top-10 finishes. “He races you with a lot of respect. I’ve raced with him a lot and we’ve only had a problem one time. I feel like that’s just racing and stuff is going to happen. Ryan has been a good dude to me and he’s been a good friend, too.”
Burton has been fast out of the gate, as well. In his six career NCWTS starts, the Virginia native has logged one top-five and two top-10 finishes, and opened 2013 with a fifth-place showing at Daytona. Driving a Late Model stock car in 2012, he scored his career-first victory at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, a venue with grandstands named after his father and uncle, Jeff Burton.
“I was impressed right off the bat by how well he adapted to those Trucks and how much success he was having in a short amount of time,” Elliott stated of Burton. “I definitely feel like he was overachieving with what he had to work with, and I feel like that was pretty impressive. I’ve known Jeb for a long, long time. I’m looking forward to running with him.”
The three young men not only relish the fact they get to square off against their playground pals, they pull for each other … at least to finish second and third.
“If I’m winning the race and they’re fighting to be second, yeah, you definitely pull for your friends because you want them to succeed as much as you have,” Blaney explained. “It’s the same in every sport. You stick close to your friends, and when they’re as good as those two, you definitely want to see them succeed, especially when you’ve known them so long.”
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