NASCAR: Burton’s agenda is to lead by example

The Democratic National Convention sizzled last week as the party made Barack Obama an historic entry onto the presidential ticket.

The Republicans kicked off their festival on Monday which will eventually result in John McCain being named their candidate for the general election in November.

Between those national gatherings, Jeff Burton was climbing into his Chevrolet at Auto Club Speedway.

The connection?

Burton isn’t concerned about turning left the rest of his years. When he reaches that pivotal decision and leaves NASCAR, he is very likely to throw his helmet into the political arena. Senator Burton, the gentleman racer from Virginia, has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Since the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, Burton has emerged as the statesman of the garage, the representative of the drivers.

But he wants to emerge as a representative of the people.

Bully for him.

“I have an interest in being involved in some form or fashion at some point in my life,” he said on his way to driver introductions Sunday before the Pepsi 500, where he finished 17th. “But no time soon.”

That would be because Burton is one of NASCAR’s best and most consistent drivers, having clinched a spot in the Chase for the Championship for the third year in a row for team owner Richard Childress. Over the past 11 seasons, Burton has finished in the championship’s top 10 seven times, including fourth, fifth, fifth and third from 1997-2000. Only twice during those 11 seasons was he below 12th.

He was fifth in the standings after Fontana with one race left before the Chase. That will be next Saturday in Richmond, Va., which by the way is Burton’s home state.

Why would a man in his position be so bent on civic duty? Burton is 41 years old and has another five good years ahead of him. He has career winnings of $58 million, will add another $10 million before he is done and could easily enjoy the good life of retirement fishing and watching Duke basketball from the front row.

But there is more to Burton than that, an internal drive and commitment that would make both Obama and McCain proud to cite him as an example of middle-aged American patriotism.

“Everybody’s got to do something,” Burton said. “To be 46, 47 years old, retired and do nothing makes no sense personally. And then professionally, do something that benefits somebody.”

However, he doesn’t want to do it for the American people or the Virginia Commonwealth. He wants to do it for himself.

OK, so the skeleton in his closet is that he’s selfish.

“I think everybody has selfish reasons for everything they do,” Burton said. “Nobody is completely innocent in not being selfish. I  think it would be something that would be fun to be involved in. Hopefully, you could make something happen. Something to give back.

“I didn’t serve in the military. I haven’t done any of those things. Maybe I can play my part.”

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